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 No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat.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

We write in advance of the Committee’s review of India to highlight some areas of concerns regarding India’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereafter “The Covenant”). We hope our submission will inform your consideration as the Committee drafts its list of issues for the adoption at the 126th session, Geneva, 1 to 26 July 2019.

We call on the Committee to urge the Government of India to address the following key issues under the Covenant:

 

Right to Bodily Integrity, Accountability (Articles 2, 6, 7, 9 and 10)

Public officials in India continue to enjoy effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Government officials, including members of police and armed forces, enjoy protection from legal proceedings as the Criminal Code and other legislation require government permission to initiate prosecutions against them. This has prevented proper accountability for human rights violations such as torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings by the police, paramilitaries, and the army.

Violence involving armed militants has increased in Jammu and Kashmir. In February 2019, a suicide bomber killed over 40 security force personnel; the Pakistan-based armed group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2018, militants killed at least 32 policemen and several other people on suspicions of being police informers. In June, unidentified gunmen killed prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir, outside the newspaper’s office in Srinagar.

At the same time, there has been little accountability for human rights violations by security forces in Kashmir. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its first-ever report on the human rights situation in Kashmir in June 2018. The report described impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice and noted that the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) impede accountability for human rights violations.[1] But the government dismissed the report, calling it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.”[2]

The AFSPA, which is also in force in several states in India’s northeast, is used to deploy the military to operate in areas declared to be “disturbed” because of an ongoing insurgency. The law provides soldiers immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses unless sanctioned by the defense ministry. Successive governments have failed to review or repeal the law despite repeated recommendations from several government-appointed commissions, UN bodies and experts, and national and international rights groups.

In addition, section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure protects police including federal armed police and public officials from prosecution (except for sexual offenses) unless sanctioned by the home ministry. Federal forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force and Border Security Force are deployed to support local police in law enforcement in several areas of India including to combat an armed rebellion by Maoist groups in central India.

Security forces in the Maoist-affected central Indian state of Chhattisgarh have been implicated in serious human rights violations including sexual assault. Police have often attempted to discredit human rights activists by describing them as Maoists or Maoist supporters, and journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists in the state faced arrest and harassment.[3]

Under India’s federal structure, policing is the responsibility of state governments. Despite Supreme Court orders, several states are yet to implement long-pending police reforms, resulting in continuing impunity for police abuses including torture and extrajudicial killings. In many cases, investigating authorities, mainly the police, fail to take steps that could have helped ensure accountability for abuses including custodial deaths.[4]

People with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities continue to be arbitrarily detained in government and privately owned mental hospitals and institutions across the country where they face unsanitary conditions, risk physical and sexual violence, and experience involuntary treatment, including electroshock therapy, often with little judicial oversight.[5]

Recommendations to India

  • Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and replace it with a rights-respecting law.
  • Implement police reform as recommended by the Supreme Court including the establishment of a complaint mechanism to address police abuse.
  • Enact the pending Prevention of Torture Bill, but only after ensuring it conforms with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The law should not include any provisions that would grant officials effective immunity from prosecution.
  • Repeal all legal provisions providing effective immunity to the security forces, including section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
  • Repeal the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, which allows preventive detention for two-year renewable periods for offenses defined by vague and overbroad terms, and violates international due process standards.
  • Recognize institutionalization based on disability as a form of discrimination and institutionalization without consent of the individual as a form of arbitrary detention. Create and implement a de-institutionalization policy and a time-bound action plan for de-institutionalization, based on the values of equality, independence, and inclusion for persons with disabilities.
  • Establish guidelines and monitoring mechanisms to improve conditions and prohibit arbitrary detention and involuntary treatment in mental hospitals and state and organization-run residential care institutions.

 

Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Assembly, Association (Articles 19, 21, and 22)

Indian authorities have harassed and at times prosecuted activists, lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists for their criticism of government actions and policies. Laws prohibiting sedition, defamation and terrorism are frequently used to chill peaceful expression.[6] Foreign funding regulations are used to target nongovernmental organizations critical of the government.

Journalists face increasing pressure to self-censor due to threat of legal action, smear campaigns and threats on social media, and even threats of physical attacks.

Police in Maharashtra state arrested nine prominent civil rights activists and human rights defenders in 2018, falsely accusing them of being members of a banned Maoist organization and of inciting violent protests.[7] In Manipur state, police threatened and harassed activists, lawyers, and families pursuing justice for alleged unlawful killings by government security forces.[8]

There have been retaliatory legal ­act­ions against activists who discuss India’s human rights abuses at international forums. In September 2016, Indian authorities detained a Kashmiri human rights activist after stopping him from traveling to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.[9] In August 2018, Tamil Nadu state authorities arrested activist Thirumurugan Gandhi under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the key counterterrorism law, allegedly for describing police abuses against protesters opposing a copper factory at the Human Rights Council.[10]

Laws such as the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act are used to shut down ­foreign funding for civil society organizations critical of the ­aut­horities. These include several prominent domestic human rights organizations working to protect the rights of some of the poorest and most marginalized communities.[11] Organizations such as Greenpeace India and Amnesty International India have also been targeted for their work. India was among the 38 countries included in the UN Secretary-General’s ninth annual report documenting reprisals and intimidation against civil society.[12]

Indian authorities are increasingly using draconian laws such as sedition to crack down on dissent. Sedition has been used against cartoonists, students, activists, and journalists among others for protected speech and activities ranging from peaceful protests to cheering for a rival team during a cricket match or refusing to stand in a movie theater during the national anthem. The police have failed to abide by Supreme Court rulings that incitement to violence is a necessary element for the sedition law to be applied. Government data from 2014 to 2016 shows 179 sedition arrests, but no charge sheet had been filed by the end of 2016 in over 70 percent of the cases, and only two of the accused had been convicted. As Human Rights Watch and others have documented, the very process of investigation and prosecution becomes the punishment.[13] 

Successive Indian governments have also failed to prevent private actors from abusing laws criminalizing expression to harass individuals expressing minority views, or to protect such speakers against violent attacks by extremist groups. Too often, officials have given in to interest groups who, for politically motivated reasons, say they are offended by a certain book, film, or work of art. The authorities then justify restrictions on expression as necessary to protect public order, citing risks of violent protests and communal violence.[14]

At the same time, Indian authorities have yet to properly investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings of progressive writers and activists Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, and M.M. Kalburgi, and journalist Gauri Lankesh. All four were allegedly killed by militant Hindu nationalists.[15]

State governments resort to blanket internet shutdowns either to prevent violence and social unrest or to respond to an ongoing law and order problem. India has the highest number of internet shutdowns globally, 306 since 2012.[16] These blanket and open-ended restrictions curtail freedom of expression and interfere with other fundamental rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and opinion has issued several calls to end internet shutdowns in India and other countries where they are common.[17]

In December 2018, the government proposed new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules empowering the authorities to order internet companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove content from their platforms within 24 hours. The rules, if passed, will require companies to proactively identify and remove “unlawful information or content” via automated means, which would likely cause intermediaries to err in favor of takedowns, resulting in unnecessary censorship of free expression. The rules would also require all companies to enable tracing of the origin of information on their platforms. This would weaken encryption used by messaging platforms to protect the privacy and data security of their users.[18]

Recommendations to India

  • Amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act so that it does not interfere with basic freedoms of association and assembly and cannot be misused to prevent the protected activities of civil society organizations.
  • Amend the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to ensure that restrictions on organizations are consistent with the right to freedom of association. 
  • Repeal sedition, criminal defamation and other criminal laws frequently misused to silence peaceful dissent.
  • Drop all pending charges and investigations against those who are facing prosecution for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
  • Withdraw the draft amendments proposed to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules.
  • End the use of blanket or open-ended internet shutdowns and be more transparent in the issuance and extension of these shutdown orders.

 

Right to Vote (Article 25)

In India, people with intellectual or psychosocial (mental health conditions) disabilities continue to be denied the right to vote. Article 16(b) of the Representation of the People Act (1951) disqualifies a person who “is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent Court” from registering to vote.[19]

Recommendation to India

  • Repeal article 16(b) of the Representation of the People Act (1951).

 

Protection of Marginalized Groups (Articles 14, 17, 18, 26 and 27)

In March 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted, “[W]e are receiving reports that indicate increasing harassment and targeting of minorities – in particular Muslims and people from historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis.”[20]

There is growing insecurity and fear among minority groups in India. Minority communities, especially Muslims and Dalits, have been targeted by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the name of cow protection.[21] Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter.

Dalits continue to be discriminated against in education and in jobs. There has been increased violence against Dalits, in part as a reaction to their more organized and vocal demands for social progress and to narrow historical caste differences.[22]

Despite legal prohibitions, the practice of “manual scavenging”—cleaning of human excreta—a caste-designated occupation that is mainly imposed upon Dalits, particularly Dalit women, persists. The state has institutionalized the practice with local governments and municipalities employing manual scavengers, putting the health and lives of sanitation workers at serious risk.[23] In July 2018, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, noted the existence of the caste-based discriminatory practice and recommended that the government establish a monitoring system for the national sanitation programs, “in order to control possible trends of increases in manual scavenging practices, ensuring that this practice is not carried out in a caste-discriminatory manner.”[24]

In 2018, the government in Assam state published a draft of the National Register of Citizens, aimed at identifying Indian citizens and legitimate residents following repeated protests and violence over irregular migration from Bangladesh. The potential exclusion of over four million people, many of them Muslims, from the register has raised concerns over arbitrary detention and possible statelessness.[25]

Tribal communities remain vulnerable to displacement because of mining, dams, and other large infrastructure projects.[26]

In September 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the biometric identification project, Aadhaar, saying the government could make it a requirement for accessing government benefits and filing income tax, but restricted it for other purposes.[27] However, in February 2019, the government passed amendments to the Aadhaar Act through an ordinance, bypassing the parliament, paving the way for its use by private parties. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns that Aadhaar registration requirements have prevented poor and marginalized people from getting essential services that are constitutionally guaranteed, including food and health care.[28]

Six years after the government amended laws and put in place new guidelines and policies aimed at justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence, girls and women continue to face barriers to reporting such crimes.[29] Girls and women with disabilities face additional barriers in accessing justice, including because of stigma associated with sexuality and disability.[30] Medical professionals continue to perform the degrading “two-finger” test to make derogatory characterizations about whether the victim was “habituated to sex,” despite the 2014 guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence, which eliminated the test.

Numerous women in India have shared their accounts on social media of workplace sexual harassment and assault, as part of the global #MeToo movement. These public accounts highlight the urgent need to fully implement the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013. The sexual harassment complaint against the sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court of India in April 2019 by a former junior assistant showed how women who complain, especially against powerful men, face significant barriers to justice.[31] The Supreme Court was widely condemned for flouting procedures and failing to give the complainant a fair hearing. The complainant had also outlined how she and her family members were dismissed from their jobs and she alleged that they now faced a false criminal case. Some other women who complained against powerful men also became vulnerable to criminal defamation cases filed against them by men they named.[32]

Children from socially and economically marginalized communities, mainly Dalit, tribal and Muslim communities, continue to face discrimination in government schools despite the Right to Education Act, leaving them further vulnerable to being forced into the worst forms of labor or into early marriage. Weak monitoring mechanisms fail to identify and track children who attend school irregularly, are at risk of dropping out, or have dropped out.[33]

People with disabilities experience a range of barriers to education, health care and other basic services, and are at risk of violence and discrimination. Several Indian incapacity laws classify people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities as being of “unsound mind,” stripping them of their legal capacity—the right to give consent or make decisions about one’s life.[34] 

In September 2018, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized homosexual sexual relations, striking down a colonial-era law, and paving the way for full constitutional protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In April 2014, the Supreme Court also recognized transgender individuals as a third gender and asked the government to treat them as a minority eligible for quotas in jobs and education. However, in December 2018, the lower house of the Indian parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, which is inconsistent with the 2014 Supreme Court ruling and fails to adequately protect the community, including transgender people’s right to self-identify.

Recommendations to India

  • Implement Supreme Court directives on preventing communal violence and ensuring that individuals responsible for mob attacks are held accountable.
  • Ensure prompt and impartial investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators and instigators of communal attacks and investigate alleged police inaction in responding to vigilante violence, including by so-called cow protection groups.
  • Strictly enforce the anti-manual scavenging law, including against local government officials who engage in caste discrimination in the workplace.
  • Identify everyone engaged in manual scavenging to ensure that they receive entitlements provided by the 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, including financial assistance, scholarships, housing, alternative livelihood support and other important legal and programmatic assistance.
  • Ensure that the National Register for Citizens (NRC) does not lead to statelessness of vulnerable communities living in Assam for years and that during the process of claims and appeals, the people excluded from the NRC are not deprived of any government services, nor targeted or stigmatized in any manner.
  • Revoke plans to amend the Aadhaar Act in violation of Supreme Court’s directions. Ensure that the law does not exclude the poor and marginalized people from access to essential services.
  • Enforce the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 and policies announced to help survivors of sexual violence, including girls and women with disabilities.
  • Enact a witness protection law, which includes protection for women and girls, and their families, who face retaliation for filing criminal complaints of sexual violence.
  • Ensure that all parties, state and non-state, implement the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. This includes all levels of the judiciary and other authorities with constitutional power. 
  • Encourage all Indian states to adopt and implement the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Guidelines and Protocols for Medico-Legal Care for Survivors/Victims of Sexual Violence.
  • Develop clear indicators to improve the detection of and response to discrimination in schools. Implement the Right to Education Act to ensure that all children have access to equal, equitable, and quality education in a child-friendly environment without any kind of discrimination.
  • Recognize the legal capacity of all persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others and the right to exercise it. Remove clauses that allow for plenary or limited guardianship. Instead provide accommodations and access to support where necessary to exercise legal capacity.
  • Withdraw the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 in its current form, and work with LGBT groups to ensure that any new law is in line with the 2014 Supreme Court judgment in NALSA v. India and international standards.
 

[1] “India: Act on UN Rights Report on Kashmir,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 14, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/14/india-act-un-rights-report-kashmir.

[3] “India: High Cost for Reporting in Chhattisgarh,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 18, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/18/india-high-cost-reporting-chhattisgarh; Human Rights Watch, “Between Two Sets of Guns:” Attacks on Civil Society Activists in India’s Maoist Conflict, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2012), https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/07/30/between-two-sets-guns/attacks-civil-society-activists-indias-maoist-conflict.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “Bound by Brotherhood:” India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2016), https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/12/19/bound-brotherhood/indias-failure-end-killings-police-custody.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Treated Worse than Animals”: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India,” (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2014), https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/12/03/treated-worse-animals/abuses-against-women-and-girls-psychosocial-or-intellectual.

[6] Sedition law, Indian Penal Code
(IPC), sec. 124 A; Criminal defamation law, IPC, sec. 499, Human Rights Watch, Stifling Dissent: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in India, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2016), https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/24/stifling-dissent/criminalization-peaceful-expression-india.

[7] “India: 5 More Rights Activists Detained,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 30, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/30/india-5-more-rights-activists-detained; “India: Dalit Rights Activists Detained,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 24, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/24/india-dalit-rights-activists-detained.

[8] “India: Manipur Victim Families, Activists Harassed,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 1, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/12/india-manipur-victim-families-activists-harassed.

[9] “India: Activist Blocked from UN Meeting, Detained,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/16/india-activist-blocked-un-meeting-detained.

[10] “Activist Thirumurugan Gandhi Released on Bail After 53 Days in Tamil Nadu Prison,” Wire.in, October 3, 2018, https://thewire.in/rights/thirumurugan-gandhi-may-17-movement; “India: Police Fatally Shoot Copper Plant Protesters,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/23/india-police-fatally-shoot-copper-plant-protesters.

[11] “India: Foreign Funding Law Used to Harass 25 Groups,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/08/india-foreign-funding-law-used-harass-25-groups; “India: Growing Crackdown on Activists, Rights Groups,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 17, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/01/17/india-growing-crackdown-activists-rights-groups.

[12] “Alarming level of reprisals against activists, human rights defenders, and victims – new UN report,” UN News, https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/09/1019082.

[13] Human Rights Watch, Stifling Dissent: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in India, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2016), https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/24/stifling-dissent/criminalization-peaceful-expression-india.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “India: Ensure Full Inquiry into Journalist’s Murder,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/06/india-ensure-full-inquiry-journalists-murder.

[16] Software Freedom Law Centre, Internet Shutdown Tracker, https://www.internetshutdowns.in/; “India: 20 Internet Shutdowns in 2017,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/15/india-20-internet-shutdowns-2017.

[17] Software Freedom Law Centre, “Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India,” May 2018, https://sflc.in/sites/default/files/reports/Living%20in%20Digital%20Darkness%20-%20A%20Handbook%20on%20Internet%20Shutdowns%20in%20India%2C%20May%202018%20-%20by%20SFLCin.pdf.

[18] Joint letter by an international coalition of organizations and experts to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, March 15, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2019/03/Coalition-Letter-for-sign-on-Indias-Intermediary-Guidelines-March-15-2019.pdf.

[20] “Bachelet highlights major human rights situations around the world in address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva,” United Nations news release, March 6, 2019, http://in.one.un.org/un-press-release/bachelet-highlights-human-rights-situations-at-un-human-rights-council/.

[21] Human Rights Watch, Violent Cow Protection in India: Vigilante Groups Attack Minorities, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2019) https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/02/18/violent-cow-protection-india/vigilante-groups-attack-minorities.

[22] Anoop Sadanandan, “What Lies Beneath the Alarming Rise in Violence Against Dalits?,” Wire.in, June 15, 2018, https://thewire.in/caste/rise-in-violence-against-dalits; Alison Saldanha and Chaitanya Mallapur, “Over Decade, Crime Rate Against Dalits Up 25%, Cases Pending Investigation Up 99%,” Indiaspend.in, April 4, 2018, https://www.indiaspend.com/over-a-decade-crime-rate-against-dalits-rose-by-746-746/ Dhrubo Jyoti and Snigdha Poonam, “Won’t back off: New turn to India’s caste conflicts,” Hindustan Times, August 13, 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/won-t-back-off-new-turn-to-india-s-caste-conflicts/story-FWVvXbj9PFhnTaN4xmUTpK.html.

[23] Human Rights Watch, Cleaning Human Waste: “Manual Scavenging,” Caste, and Discrimination in India, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2014) https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/08/25/cleaning-human-waste/manual-scavenging-caste-and-discrimination-india.

[24] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation on his mission to India,” A/HRC/39/55/Add.1, July 6, 2018, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/207/32/PDF/G1820732.pdf?OpenElement.

[25] “India: Assam’s Citizen Identification Can Exclude 4 Million People,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/31/india-assams-citizen-identification-can-exclude-4-million-people.

[26] “How Many People Will We Continue to Displace In the Name of Development?” Economic and Political Weekly, February 28, 2019, https://www.epw.in/engage/article/how-many-people-will-we-continue.

[27] “India: Top Court OK’s Biometric ID Program,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 27, 2018,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/27/india-top-court-oks-biometric-id-program.

[28] “India: Identification Project Threatens Rights,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 13, 2018,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/13/india-identification-project-threatens-rights.

[29] Human Rights Watch, “Everyone Blames Me”: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2017), https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/11/08/everyone-blames-me/barriers-justice-and-support-services-sexual-assault-survivors.

[30] Human Rights Watch, Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/04/03/invisible-victims-sexual-violence/access-justice-women-and-girls-disabilities.

[31] “India: Sexual Harassment Case Against SC Chief Justice,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/25/india-sexual-harassment-case-against-sc-chief-justice.

[32] Aruna Kashyap, “When #MeToo Meets the Architecture of Intimidation in India,” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 8, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/08/when-metoo-meets-architecture-intimidation-india.

[33] Human Rights Watch, “They Say We’re Dirty”: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2014),  https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/04/22/they-say-were-dirty/denying-education-indias-marginalized.

[34] Human Rights Watch, “Treated Worse than Animals”: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2014), https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/12/03/treated-worse-animals/abuses-against-women-and-girls-psychosocial-or-intellectual.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This house in Kikaikelaki village, North-West region, Cameroon, was burned by soldiers on April 30, 2019.

© 2019 Private

(New York) – The United Nations Security Council’s decision to hold an informal meeting on Cameroon on May 13, 2019 gives momentum to international efforts to address the human rights crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions.

“Security Council members should call on the government of Cameroon and leaders of armed separatist groups to end abuses against civilians in the Anglophone regions and hold those responsible for abuse accountable,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This meeting is an opportunity to remind abusers that the world is watching.”

Since late 2016, deadly violence has gripped the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, claiming the lives of 1,800 people and forcing half a million to flee their homes. Among the most at-risk groups are people with disabilities and older people who have faced violent attacks, abandonment, forced displacement, and problems getting humanitarian assistance.

Government forces have killed scores of civilians, torched hundreds of homes, and used torture and incommunicado detention with near total impunity. Armed separatists have assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people, including students and teachers, amid increasing attacks and growing calls for secession of the North-West and South-West regions.

Since late April, Human Rights Watch has documented more abuses, including killings and burning of homes.

On April 19, a stray bullet fired by soldiers killed a 72-year-old woman in her house in Mamfe, South-West region. Her son told Human Rights Watch that soldiers raided the neighborhood and started shooting indiscriminately: “Everyone fled, but my mother was too old to run. As she was near the window, a bullet went through and hit her on the right side of the chest. She died on the way to the hospital.”

On April 23, armed separatists killed Adam Assana, a gendarme, in Muyuka, South-West region. His body was found decapitated and dismembered the following day along the Muyuka-Kumba road. A local resident told Human Rights Watch: “He was not on duty. His car was stopped at an ‘Amba’ [separatist] checkpoint. When he was identified as a gendarme, he was kidnapped and killed. The separatists had pierced his mouth with a wooden stick.”  

On April 25, violence erupted in Bamenda, North-West region, after armed separatists dropped a human head, allegedly belonging to a soldier, at the Hospital Roundabout. Security forces responded by shooting along Commercial Avenue, forcing people to flee. A social worker from Bamenda told Human Rights Watch: “We heard gunshots by the soldiers from all angles. We had to lie on the floor for hours.” Accounts from a dozen residents and videos show that soldiers broke into deserted shops.

This shooting took place near the market of Bamenda, Cameroon.

We verified the exact location with @richeyward @RobertLaverick.

In the second video (thread), you can see a soldier taking a motorbike away.

1/2 pic.twitter.com/oAAboA5TIr

— Emmanuel Freudenthal (@EmmanuelFreuden) May 8, 2019

On April 27, soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion stormed a health center in Wum, North-West region, looking for wounded separatists and beat some of the medical staff. A female nurse who was hit on her head and jaw said: “As they didn’t find any boys [separatists] they started beating us. I was hit so bad that I could not eat or swallow.” The health center remained closed until May 9.

On April 28, armed separatists kidnapped a 42-year-old man in Sabongari, North-West region. Witnesses and residents told Human Rights Watch that the man had gone to the separatists’ camp l4 kilometers from Sabongari to negotiate the release of a traditional chief who had been abducted. “He went there and was taken hostage instead, while the chief was released,” a resident said. The man managed to escape on May 8.

On April 30, soldiers killed a 16-year-old boy in Kikaikelaki village, North-West region. Three witnesses said that the security forces entered the village with military vehicles, including at least three armored cars, and started to shoot indiscriminately, causing people to run away.

Three witnesses and two family members told Human Rights Watch that soldiers shot him in the leg as he tried to flee, then executed him at a nearby roundabout. “They first shot him in the leg and then carried him to their vehicle,” one resident said. “They dropped him at the Tsenla roundabout and killed him with a bullet in the head. We buried him the same day at the Presbyterian church.”  

Security forces also burned down and looted 11 homes in Kikaikelaki. A man whose home was torched told Human Rights Watch: “When the military came, I hid for safety. I watched them steal gallons of fuel from a store and set my entire compound on fire. All I had is gone.”

The recent violence is part of an increase in attacks on civilians since the beginning of 2019. Further human rights violations are likely if the government does not rein in its forces and armed separatist leaders do not give clear instructions to their fighters to stop abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

The informal Security Council meeting comes after months of international condemnation of the violence unfolding in the Anglophone regions, including by the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

In the follow-up to this meeting, the UN Security Council should make Cameroon a formal item on its agenda and press authorities to investigate members of the security forces alleged to have carried out killings and destruction of property and prosecute those responsible. It should also publicly announce to armed separatist groups that their leaders will be held responsible for serious crimes committed by their fighters.

The council should consider imposing targeted sanctions against high-level people from both sides who bear responsibility for serious abuses.

The Cameroon government denied a Human Rights Watch researcher entry to the country on April 12, two days after Human Rights Watch published a short report on a deadly attack by soldiers, gendarmes, and members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion on a village in the North-West region. Bachelet visited Cameroon last week and raised the lack of access for both international and national human rights activists and humanitarian agencies.

“Cameroon’s move to block a human rights researcher and observers shows its determination to conceal its brutality,” Mudge said. “The UN Security Council should encourage the country to allow access to international human rights organizations and cooperate with them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A United Nations team is visiting Washington this week to conduct its first review of US counterterrorism policy. In announcing the visit, the White House touted the United States as a “global leader in counterterrorism” promoting a “rule-of-law” and “whole-of-society” approach. UN Assistant-Secretary-General Michele Coninsx, who is leading the UN visit, would do well to examine the facts behind this rhetoric before reaching a conclusion.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the US has enlisted dozens of countries in what President George W. Bush called a “global war on terror.” In the process, it has undermined international legal norms for conduct both on and off the battlefield, from the treatment of captured fighters and the protection of civilians to the rights of all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, to hold and peacefully express their beliefs.

Under the current administration, President Donald Trump has purposefully conflated immigrants and refugees with terrorists, choosing scapegoating and fearmongering as part of his “whole-of-society” approach. He has spoken falsely of “terrorists coming through the southern border” to try to secure congressional funding for his proposed wall between the US and Mexico. He has termed the US refugee resettlement program a “Trojan Horse,” implying it’s a way for dangerous terrorists to secretly enter the country. He has also largely banned travelers from five Muslim-majority countries. His muted responses to deadly attacks by white supremacists stand in stark contrast to his condemnations of attacks by militant Islamists.

As for rule of law, Trump has been a cheerleader for indefinite detention without charge or fair trial at Guantanamo Bay, which still holds 40 prisoners, some who have remained there for 17 years. Seven face military tribunals distinguished by remarkable procedural failings; only two have been convicted of crimes.

Seemingly oblivious to how Guantanamo’s sordid history fuels the narratives of groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), the Trump administration has suggested that the prison could be used to detain suspected ISIS fighters captured in Syria. In the meantime, the US underscored its indifference to humane treatment of terrorism suspects by transferring several alleged ISIS fighters from the custody of an allied, Kurdish-led coalition in northeast Syria to Lebanon, Macedonia and Iraq despite the documented risks of torture in those countries. And it held one dual US-Saudi citizen for over a year without charge in Iraq, until a US court ordered the detainee’s release.

Trump has continued the targeted killings campaign of his two predecessors in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, while scrapping accountability guidelines issued by then-President Barack Obama. More than 1,100 civilians have died in these strikes, according to estimates by the research group Airwars. The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been less opaque about civilian casualties, but its estimates are often only a small fraction of the numbers compiled by nongovernmental research groups, raising questions about their veracity. Airwars, for example, puts the civilian death toll in Iraq and Syria at 7,759 to 12,572, while the US government estimate is 1,257.

Trump has also given credibility to sham terrorism trials abroad by embracing leaders of countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that have unjustly prosecuted and executed hundreds of dissidents. Media reports allege that US forces interrogated terrorism suspects who had been tortured in secret prisons in Yemen that were run by the forces of another US ally, the United Arab Emirates. The allegations are particularly sobering in the context of the continuing impunity for CIA torture of terrorism suspects following the 9/11 attacks.

At the UN, since 9/11, the US has backed overly broad Security Council resolutions that require UN member states to enact tough counterterrorism measures—without defining terrorism. Many countries have used these vague laws to crack down on activists, journalists and opposition members practicing peaceful dissent.

Flaws in the US approach should be front and center during the talks taking place this week between US security officials and Coninsx, who heads the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), an agency that reviews global compliance with UN counterterrorism measures.

Coninsx should firmly remind the US that even the most sweeping Security Council counterterrorism resolutions bar countries from violating human rights. These include the rights to life, humane treatment, fair trials and freedom of religion and expression. Coninsx should also point to the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which warns that erosion of the rule of law and violations of human rights can fuel terrorism.

In addition, Coninsx should be frank in her public statements on US counterterrorism policy. CTED has often welcomed a country’s counterterrorism efforts but glossed over its abuses—for example, the glaring procedural violations during trials of ISIS suspects in Iraq and Boko Haram suspects in Nigeria. Silence on countries’ egregious counterterrorism measures, in this case by a superpower boasting of its “global leadership” in confronting groups such as ISIS, can easily be construed as tacit acceptance

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

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority building, modern tall buildings on the Corniche seafront, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

© 2012 Minden Pictures/AP Images

(Beirut) – A 42-year-old woman whom United Arab Emirates security forces denied adequate medical care and mistreated for more than three years died on May 4, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Alia Abdel Nour had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, soon after her arrest on undisclosed charges.

A UAE court convicted Abdel Nour of terrorism in 2017 in a case marred by allegations of torture and serious due process violations. While imprisoned, she was denied regular family visits, and since her transfer to a hospital in November 2016, authorities had kept her hands and feet shackled to her hospital bed for extended periods of time. Since mid-March, authorities had allowed family members to visit Abdel Nour for no more than 20 minutes a day. Despite her failing health, the authorities ignored repeated calls by international rights groups, European parliamentarians, United Nations experts, and her family members to release her on health grounds. 

“UAE authorities showed just how cruel they can be by denying Alia Abdel Nour the chance to spend her last days with her family,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This case exemplifies why the UAE’s self-dubbed ‘Year of Tolerance’ is just another publicity stunt aimed at whitewashing the country’s deeply repressive policies.”

Abdel Nour’s family members said that after doctors informed them that she had only months to live, they repeatedly reached out to the crown prince, the Interior Ministry, and the public prosecutor to request her compassionate release on health grounds, which is permitted under Emirati law. They said that their requests had been rejected without explanation or ignored. Nor did the authorities respond to international calls for an investigation into the allegations of her ill-treatment and torture.

“Despite her deeply flawed prosecution and terminal illness, Emirati authorities chose to keep Alia Abdel Nour imprisoned and in isolation during her final days,” Page said. “The tragedy of her death in detention speaks volumes about the current state of human rights in the UAE.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Members of the Coalition on Transitional Justice.

 

To the attention of: Mr. Fabian Salvioli

Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence 

 

CC: Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment 

Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 

Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

c/o Special Procedures Branch

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR- UNOG)

 

Dear Mr. Salvioli,

The Coalition on Transitional Justice, formed by 28 national and international NGOs, would like to bring to your attention the imminent threat to the transitional justice process in Tunisia. The Coalition was recently made aware of a proposal to draft a law to dismantle the Specialized Criminal Chambers in Tunisia and replace it with an institution that would effectively ensure impunity for gross human rights violations committed in Tunisia between 1955 and 2013.

The proposal, prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights and Relations with Civil Society and distributed confidentially to Parliament for early consultations with political groups, aims to repeal the provisions of the Organic Law on Establishing and Organizing Transitional Justice of 2013 (the Transitional Justice Law) establishing and governing the work of the Specialized Criminal Chambers (SCCs). The SCCs, established in 2014, have jurisdiction over cases involving gross human rights violations referred to them by the Truth and Dignity Commission, also established by the Transitional Justice Law. The Truth and Dignity Commission transferred more than 170 cases to the SCCs by the end of 2018, and trials have opened in dozens of these cases. The first trial in these special courts, which opened in the city of Gabes on May 29, 2018, concerned the enforced disappearance of Kamel Matmati, an activist whom the police arrested in 1991. Other trials concern cases of torture, rape, arbitrary detention, and arbitrary killing.

Since these trials opened, the judges of the SCCs have been performing their duties under high pressure and insecurity because several law enforcement officials have refused to secure the courts where these trials are taking place. The SCCs also encounter many difficulties in having the arrest warrants and summonses for accused and witnesses to appear before them executed.

In the SCCs’ place, the proposal envisages establishing two commissions, “the Reconciliation Commission,” and the “Settlement Commission” to which all files transferred by the Truth and Dignity Commission to the SCCs should be provided. The “Reconciliation Commission” and the “Settlement Commission” would be composed each of 9 members appointed by the president of the republic, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister, and could be revoked by the same authorities. They would have the power to review alleged gross human rights violations as well as economic and financial crimes and issue a “reconciliation certificate,” based upon which the Prosecutors in appeals courts would issue an “amnesty certificate” terminating all current or future criminal proceedings against an alleged perpetrator, and quash even final judgments delivered in cases of human rights violations and corruption, provided the perpetrator issues an apology before the Commission. Victims appear to have no role in the process. The law would, in effect, pave the way for granting amnesties for all perpetrators of all gross human rights violations over which the SCC was created to have jurisdiction.

This proposal comes at a very important juncture for transitional justice in Tunisia. On 26 March 2019, after receiving more than 62,000 complaints from victims, the Truth and Dignity Commission, published a five-volume report analyzing and exposing the institutional networks that facilitated the commission of human rights violations over the five decades preceding the 2013 Transitional Justice Law. The report contains numerous recommendations on institutional reforms, including to the security sector and judiciary, aimed at ensuring the rule of law and preventing a return to authoritarianism and widespread human rights violations. This proposal risks undoing the significant steps taken by Tunisia towards justice and accountability for past violations and establishes conditions for ongoing impunity moving forward.

The proposal is the latest attempt by Tunisian authorities to curtail transitional justice. Government institutions hindered the work of the Truth and Dignity Commission by preventing it from accessing the archives of the Presidency and Interior Ministry and ignoring the Truth and Dignity Commission’s numerous requests for information about the identity of police agents allegedly involved in gross human rights violations. The Truth and Dignity Commission also said that the military courts refused to cooperate with it.  

The parliament voted in March 2018 not to allow the Truth and Dignity Commission to exercise its prerogative to extend its mandate by one year. Despite this vote, the Commission continued to function, albeit with difficulties. Parliament also enacted a law on “administrative reconciliation,” based on a presidential initiative, that removed certain economic crimes from the commission’s purview and ensured amnesty for some categories of corrupt former officials.

The attempt to undermine transitional justice is a reflection of the broader prevailing environment of impunity for human rights violations in Tunisia and the lack of political will to combat that impunity. Since 2011, the overwhelming majority of credible allegations of torture and other ill-treatment committed after the fall of Ben Ali and attributed to the security forces has not resulted in a prosecution. 

A law giving effect to this proposal would constitute a clear violation of Tunisia’s international obligations to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law.  As underlined in international jurisprudence, amnesties and pardons are incompatible with the obligation to prosecute crimes under international law and deny victims the right to truth, access to justice and to request appropriate reparations. By abolishing the SCCs and ensuring impunity for past violations, the proposed law, if passed, would reinforce impunity and embolden perpetrators of current and future human rights violations. 

It would be a betrayal of victims’ hopes for justice to cut short these trials and terminate these and other proceedings within the jurisdiction of the SCC. We believe that a timely and public statement from your mandate along with those covering enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture and ill-treatment could be key in securing the continuation of the transitional justice process in Tunisia. We also urge you to conduct a visit to Tunisia to help oppose such looming threats against transitional justice. It is fundamental that your mandate open a channel of communication with the government to ensure the process of transitional justice in Tunisia is not lost.  

Yours sincerely,

Members of the Coalition on Transitional Justice

List of Members of the Coalition on Transitional Justice:

- Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
- Association des Magistrats Tunisiens (AMT)
- Forum Tunisien des Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDH)
- Al Bawsala
- Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF)
- Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisien
- Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développement (AFTURD)
- Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD)
- No Peace Without Justice
- Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
- Association tunisienne de Défense des Libertés Individuelles (ADLI)
- International Alert
- Coordination Nationale Indépendante pour la Justice Transitionnelle (CNIJT)
- Association Internationale de Soutien aux Prisonniers Politiques (AISPP)
- Observatoire Tunisien des Lieux de Détention
- Association Al Karama
- Association Justice et Réhabilitation
- Association des familles des martyrs et blessés de la révolution (AWFIYA)
- Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH)
- Human Rights Watch
- International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
- International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)
- Al-Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center
- INSAF pour les Anciens Militaires
- Coalition Tunisienne Dignité et Réhabilitation
- Organisation du martyr de la liberté Nabil Barakati
- Réseau Tunisien de la Justice Transitionnelle (RTJT)
- DAAM

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

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

© 2018 AP Photo/Andy Wong

 

(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should publicly denounce the arbitrary detention of one million Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang during his forthcoming trip to China, Human Rights Watch said this week in a letter to Guterres. The secretary-general will visit Beijing to attend the Belt and Road International Forum on Cooperation on April 25 to 27, 2019.

“While some key UN voices have repeatedly and publicly expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Xinjiang, Secretary-General Guterres’ voice has been noticeably absent, and victims of abuses in China and elsewhere have noticed,” said Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “Guterres’ public silence sends a message, however inadvertent, that the safety and well-being of Muslims in China is not a top UN concern.”

Human Rights Watch urged Guterres to speak openly about the deteriorating human rights situation in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are being held indefinitely in “political education” camps because of their ethnic and religious backgrounds, without any legal process.

Outside the camps, Xinjiang authorities monitor and control every aspect of life, imposing severe restrictions on the freedom of religion, and on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and movement. The Chinese government has also targeted members of the Uyghur diaspora, including at the UN in New York and in Geneva.

“Secretary-General Guterres should speak out publicly as well as privately with a direct appeal to President Xi Jinping to close Xinjiang’s ‘political education’ camps, permit free expression, association, and movement, and respect the human rights of all, at home and abroad,” Stagno Ugarte said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Members of the Security Council vote on a resolution concerning sexual violence during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Seth Wenig
(New York) – The United States’ threat to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict because it mentioned women’s reproductive health services is another deeply cynical and cruel step in its assault on women’s rights in US foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The United States demonstrated that it is willing to up the ante on its anti-choice fight and was willing to sacrifice a global resolution seeking to ensure greater accountability for women and girls raped in war,” said Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.”

The Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 in 2000, which focused on women, peace, and security. It called on all UN member states and parties to an armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.” It also called to end impunity for and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes, “including those relating to sexual violence and other violence against women and girls.” The Security Council has periodically strengthened its calls on state action through several resolutions which include commitments by all parties to time-bound measures for combating sexual violence.

On April 23, 2019, the Security Council held an open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Germany led a draft resolution to strengthen the international response to the use of rape in war. In the final stages of negotiations around the text, the US threatened to veto the resolution unless it completely removed references to sexual and reproductive health. Even after a compromise was reached – one that omitted the language around sexual and reproductive health, but referenced a previous resolution that does – the US doubled down and refused to accept any language that recognized that victims of rape in war should have access to sexual and reproductive health services. The Trump administration believes this implies access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without any language on access, a victory for the Trump administration and a major blow to the global women’s rights movement.

This comes after a long line of actions by the Trump administration to actively undermine sexual and reproductive rights abroad and at home. For the second year in a row, the US State Department issued its annual human rights report, excising the section that previously reported on women’s reproductive rights, including rates of preventable maternal deaths and access to contraception.

At the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting this March, the US played a disruptive role, trying to eliminate the use of the word gender and distanced itself from the global consensus document on women’s sexual and reproductive health that has been in place for 20 years.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down last month on Trump’s massive expansion of a restrictive policy known as the global gag rule, which will make it even harder for grassroots organizations to provide specialized health services to marginalized women and girls. This says nothing of the litany of harmful actions taken against women’s rights at home, including issuing a new regulation that would impose a type of gag rule on healthcare providers that offer services through federal family planning funds.

“After two years of relentless attacks on reproductive rights, the US’ latest antics at the UN Security Council may be no surprise,” Klasing said. “But the world cannot become accustomed to the fact that the Trump administration wants to deny survivors of sexual violence in conflict access to healthcare and is willing to pressure countries into backtracking on global agreements in an effort to advance its extreme discriminatory views on sexual and reproductive rights.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, February 10, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Halfway through his first five-year term, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is becoming defined by his silence on human rights — even as serious rights abuses proliferate.

U.N. secretaries general have all struggled with when to speak out, trying to balance their role as quiet mediators of disputes with the need to represent core U.N. values. Outspoken support for rights can close some diplomatic doors but keeping quiet leaves the perception that the United Nations is indifferent to atrocities, abandoning the victims while often undermining prospects for peace. Guterres has firmly sided with quiet diplomacy.

He set the tone early in his tenure, which corresponded with President Trump’s inauguration. Guterres criticized Trump’s “Muslim ban” only after many other governments had condemned it — and then without mentioning Trump.

Guterres perhaps didn’t want to risk giving Trump an excuse to stop sending checks to the United Nations. But that reluctance to speak out has also characterized his approach to other powerful governments such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.

Numerous governments have voiced concerns about China’s detention of 1 million Turkic, mainly Uighur, Muslims for forced indoctrination. Yet Guterres has not said a word about it in public. Instead, he praises China’s development prowess and rolls out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping.

Guterres has also repeatedly declined to exercise his authority to establish fact-finding missions into egregious rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia’s murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the murder of two U.N. sanctions monitors in Congo.

Apart from his spokesman’s feeble appeal to the United States to fulfill its legal obligations as host for the United Nations, Guterres has stayed silent on the Trump administration’s revocation of a visa for the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor over possible investigations of U.S. torture in Afghanistan. By contrast, Guterres needlessly allowed himself to be photographed at a recent African Union summit standing next to then-Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

On rare occasions, Guterres has taken a principled stand for rights, including resisting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s campaign to destroy the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala as it investigates Morales for corruption. In September 2017, Guterres urged the Security Council to stop the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, albeit with little follow-up when it did nothing.

But for most rights issues, the dominant sound coming from the 38th floor of U.N. headquarters has been silence.

There is no doubt that Guterres is a skilled and conscientious diplomat, but his decision to suppress his voice on human rights, especially as civilians are targeted in armed conflicts, is misguided.

The Syrian military, with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, has systematically attacked civilians and civilian institutions such as hospitals in areas held by anti-government forces. The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly attacked markets, mosques, funerals and even a school bus in Yemen while maintaining a blockade that has exacerbated the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with millions facing famine. The Myanmar military committed widespread and systematic murder, rape and arson to force more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. To pretend that these conflicts can be mediated without addressing the human rights abuses at their core is to divorce the negotiating room from the ugly reality on the ground.

Peace talks for Syria have been on and off again for years. But if Guterres remains silent about the government’s responsibility for the vast majority of atrocities that are at the heart of the conflict, it will only make peace more elusive.

The rise of autocrats presents a profound threat to human rights, yet Guterres is also notably silent, even without a mediating role to play.

Other U.N. chiefs have managed a better balance. Kofi Annan’s human rights voice arguably enhanced his power as a mediator. Ban Ki-moon launched “Human Rights up Front,” to ensure that U.N. field representatives did not prioritize good relations with a government over speaking out against atrocities they witnessed. Under Guterres, that important initiative has been sidelined.

For more than two years, Guterres offered excuses for not publicly defending human rights. He wanted to focus on internal reforms. He needed to stabilize relations with Trump. But today’s crises are too acute, the civilian victims too numerous, for Guterres to reduce his job to mediator in chief.

Speaking out is never easy. There is often a political, even a personal, price to pay. But that is the cost of leadership. Guterres should show that he can fulfill the full scope of his responsibilities as U.N. secretary general. His excessively quiet diplomacy is selling short his position and the promise of the United Nations.

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

Nujeen Mustafa speaks at the United Nations Security Council briefing on April 24, 2019.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.

Good afternoon, Mr. President, your Excellencies, Civil Society colleagues, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

My name is Nujeen Mustafa and I am 20 years old from Aleppo, Syria. I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair to move around. It is a privilege to share with you my insights on the humanitarian situation for people with disabilities in Syria.

I will start by posing a question: What does it mean to be a young woman person with a disability in Syria?    

For me, it meant not being able to go to school, hang out with friends, or go to the cinema. It was almost like house arrest. Having a disability in Syria often means that you are hidden away. You confront shame, discrimination and physical barriers. You are pitied. I was fortunate, however: my family was very supportive. I didn't have so many fears.

That is, until the war started. I quickly realized that I was the main obstacle standing in the way of my family’s safety.

We lived in a tall building with no lift. If we needed to escape quickly, I would need to be carried down 5 flights of stairs.

For weeks, I heard military helicopters buzzing over our neighborhood ready to drop bombs at any moment. We went days with no sleep. My mother would carry me to the bathroom and stay there with me for hours until the bombs passed.

Every day, we would hear news of relatives and friends who had been killed. Every day, buildings in our neighborhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds too late. My brother called us the “walking dead.” 

It took the bombing of a funeral in June 2015, where some of my relatives were killed, to convince our family it was time to flee our home and leave everything we knew behind.

In Syria, I didn’t have a wheelchair so I had to be carried out of the country by my siblings but many people with disabilities cannot depend on their families to help them reach safety. Often, because their family members have been killed or have already left.

Being a woman and having a disability makes it doubly more difficult. For example, a man can ask for help from a male friend to flee. But in a society like Syria, a woman cannot. If you don’t have an immediate male relative, you cannot just call on a friend to carry you.

While living in a country at war is daunting for anyone, it is particularly challenging for someone with a disability. The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on is broken down during a conflict, leaving us at a higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance - especially for women.

Many people with disabilities have developed different tricks for how to cope in daily life. For example, I had my independence in my home in Aleppo – I could easily reach my bed or the toilet, gracefully managing the two tricky steps up without anyone’s help. A blind person may know how to manage in her own environment, but can you imagine what it must be like to navigate the rubble and debris strewn across their path to safety?

Someone who is deaf might not realize that there are gunshots or warnings to evacuate, and may end up in danger. If you have an intellectual disability or psychosocial disability, leaving what is familiar behind can be very confusing and a source of great anxiety.

However you look at it, the risks are greater just because you have a disability.

This is why it’s so important and heartening that you, members of the UN Security Council, are taking the time to listen to the perspective of a young woman with a disability from Syria.

But this is not just my story – it is the experience of thousands of Syrians with disabilities who struggle to survive because of the limited services still functioning in the country, lack of accessibility, and the constant threat of violence, especially against women and girls. 

And if you got a disability as a result of the conflict – which according to UNICEF accounts for 1.5 million people still living in Syria – you now face stigma and exclusion within your communities, and suddenly find yourself having to cope with having a disability.   

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council, I would like to leave you with 3 insights:

1.    The crisis in Syria has a disproportionately high impact on people with disabilities.

The use of landmines and cluster bombs has had devastating human consequences: Thousands of Syrians have lost limbs to these dreadful weapons that have rightly been banned by most governments because of their immense harm to civilians.

The conflict has had a significant psychological impact too. Even in my case, I still jump when I hear a loud noise, a reminder of those hours hiding out in the bathroom. 

In the current situation in Idlib, there are more than 175,000 people with disabilities – many of whom now have disabilities because of the conflict.   Residents fear military action because it could result in large casualties among civilians, given that Idlib is densely populated. The Council cannot allow Idlib to be another Aleppo, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee. Half of the people living in Idlib have already been displaced by war like my family, except this time they wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

All humanitarian programs – many of which are funded by governments around this table – should include specific programs to reach people with disabilities to ensure that they can get things like health services, assistive devices and psychosocial support. These are essential for people with disabilities to feel part of their communities and get back some sort of normalcy.

2.     People with disabilities - like woman and girls - seem to be an afterthought.

The humanitarian response inside Syria and in neighboring countries largely overlooks the needs of people with disabilities. Independent organizations like Human Rights Watch have documented that people with disabilities cannot even access basic services, such as sanitation, health care, education – something I myself experienced when I fled. On my way to Germany, I didn’t find many accessible bathrooms along the way – and that’s especially hard for a woman.

There is very little data on how many people with disabilities live in Syria or have fled to neighboring countries and what our needs are. And without this data, the programs and policies just don’t meet our needs. We’re invisible.

People with disabilities were forgotten in times of peace. What do you think we expect in times of war? But that does not make it right.

But you need to count us because we count too.

UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs need to systematically collect data categorized by disability, age and gender - and monitor and report on people with disabilities, so that you understand the full impact of the conflict has on us. Otherwise, we continue to remain invisible.

The Security Council’s job is to protect ALL civilians – including people with disabilities. ‘No one left behind’ should not just be words that you say.

3.    People with disabilities are a resource, not a burden.

We know best what risks we face and what we need, so ask for our input, involve us in aid planning, reach out to us to report on the challenges we face. “Nothing about us, without us.” 

This means meaningful participation and representation of people with disabilities including women, and organizations of people with disabilities, in all parts of the Security Council’s work. I might be the first person with a disability to address the Council but I hope I won’t be the last.

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

this should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on to the next item on the agenda.

You can and should do more to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of your work - we can’t wait any longer.

I understand that there are many competing priorities in this conflict and the humanitarian response. But you need to address the needs of people with disabilities, particularly women. This is not a favor. This is not charity. This is our rights.

I’m very grateful for the chance to brief you. 

My hope is that people with disabilities, particularly women and girls, would one day live in a world that protects, respects and values us.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Nujeen Mustafa speaks at the United Nations Security Council briefing on April 24, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch
(New York) – The Syrian disability rights activist Nujeen Mustafa will brief the United Nations Security Council on April 24, 2019, on the situation for people with disabilities in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. It will be the Security Council’s first formal consideration of the rights of people with disabilities who are caught up in armed conflict.
 

Mustafa, 20, will be the first person with a disability to formally brief the Security Council, and one of very few Syrians given such an invitation since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. She fled Syria when she was 16 and has since travelled the world to advocate for governments and UN agencies to include people with disabilities in the humanitarian response. The Security Council should urgently act to improve the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

© Chris Floyd

“The UN Security Council has a duty to protect all civilians in armed conflict, including people with disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Nujeen Mustafa’s briefing to the Security Council should prompt council members, the UN leadership, and all UN member states to ensure that their humanitarian commitment to ‘Leave no one behind’ is not just rhetoric.”

Mustafa has cerebral palsy and cannot walk independently. In January 2014, she began a harrowing 16-month, 5,600-kilometer journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. She is currently a student in Germany. Mustafa is the recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2019 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, has been characterized by widespread and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate attacks, the use of prohibited weapons, and restrictions on humanitarian aid. Nearly six million people have fled the hostilities, often taking arduous and life-threatening journeys to reach safety.

People with disabilities are among the most at-risk in humanitarian emergencies. As shelling, airstrikes, or raids threaten their lives, people with disabilities may not be able to run for safety. Those with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) may not understand danger. In the chaos of rushed evacuations, they also risk being separated from family members, or losing assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or hearing aids.

The situation is further complicated by countries’ refusal to accept more refugees or facilitate their ability to flee. People with disabilities have been disproportionately harmed by these violations and restrictions on the ability to seek refuge in other countries.

People with disabilities often struggle to access humanitarian aid, particularly in places like Syria, where aid providers have been attacked and where the government and anti-government armed groups have unlawfully restricted aid deliveries and the movement of civilians.

The humanitarian response in Syria and neighboring countries should include disability-inclusive protection programming and access for people with disabilities to basic services, including shelter, sanitation, health, psychosocial support, and education. Resources need to be dedicated toward evacuating civilians with disabilities from areas of hostilities.

The Security Council and member states should also ensure that neighboring and host countries facilitate the ability of civilians most at risk to escape violence, and dismantle policies that create additional risk for people with disabilities who attempt to flee. The council should also ensure that UN data collection, monitoring, and reporting on all conflicts includes the specific situation of people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said. Otherwise, their needs and equal rights will continue to be overlooked.

The International Disability Alliance, a network of 14 global and regional organizations of persons with disabilities working to advance the rights of persons with disabilities with governments and the UN system, emphasized the need to consult people with disabilities about their situation.

“This Security Council briefing is an important step in recognizing the unique and disproportionate impact of conflict on persons with disabilities,” said Vladimir Cuk, executive director of the International Disability Alliance. “Close consultation with and active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in humanitarian response is critical to address their situation on the ground.”

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Union’s top rights body, will take place from April 24 to May 14 in Sharm al-Sheikh.

© 2019 Private

(Beirut) – Egypt is hosting an Africa human rights session beginning April 24, 2019, while its government is presiding over the worst human rights crisis in the country in recent decades, 15 African, Egyptian, and international organizations said today.

The 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Union’s top rights body, will take place from April 24 to May 14 in Sharm al-Sheikh. In addition to its systematic failure to respect and protect human rights at home, Egypt has also led efforts to undermine the commission’s independence. The commission should strongly raise Egypt’s human rights abuses at the meeting.

“Egypt is trying to appear like a country open for human rights delegates and sessions while, at the same time, crushing all dissenting voices and its once-vibrant human rights community,” said Michael page, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We know that many Egyptian and international organizations are not allowed to work freely in Egypt and cannot voice concerns without severe retaliation from the government.”

The commission should ensure that all government and nongovernment delegations are able to participate freely in the session. It should also make clear that it will strongly address any measures of reprisals by the Egyptian authorities against criticism of its practices.

A senior staff member of a leading Egyptian rights organization told Human Rights Watch that only three Egyptian human rights groups were considering participating in the session because most of the groups were concerned about retaliation by the government.

In recent years, the Egyptian authorities have relentlessly cracked down on nongovernmental organizations, issued the 2017 draconian law that effectively bans all independent work by nongovernmental groups, and prosecuted scores of staff workers of Egyptian organizations. It has also frozen the assets of the most prominent human rights defenders in the country and their organizations and issued travel bans against scores of them. In April 2018, the government said it would repeal the abusive 2017 NGO law but the government has not made a new draft law public.

The Egyptian authorities have also taken reprisals against human rights defenders and activists for cooperating with regional and international human rights monitors, including United Nations agencies and experts. In late 2018, Egyptian authorities detained several citizens who met with the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing during her official mission to Egypt, as well as demolishing their houses and banning their travel. The government denied any wrongdoing and accused the UN High commissioner on human rights and other UN officials of breaching UN standards and adopting the “lies” of “terrorist” organizations.

In September 2017, officials stopped Ibrahim Metwally, a lawyer and co-founder of the Associations of the Families of the Disappeared, from traveling for meetings with UN officials in Geneva. Security agencies arrested him at the airport and held him incommunicado for a few days. He is still held in “pretrial detention” for farcical charges.

The Egyptian government has tried to undermine the independence of the commission through spearheading the adoption of African Union’s Executive Council’s Decision 1015, paragraph 5. The provision, which was passed in June 2018, undermines the commission’s independence by subjecting its work to control by the African Union member countries.

The Egyptian government has ignored decisions and resolutions the commission and its experts have made addressing several violations and abuses including the crackdown on civil society, restrictions on freedom of religion, unfair trials and mass death sentences, arbitrary arrests, and sexual violence.

The ACHPR session comes at a time when the Egyptian authorities have been severely oppressing dissent and obliterating any space for peaceful expression or gathering before the public vote held between April 19-22 on highly draconian constitutional amendments that will strengthen the military control of public and political life and further undermine the already weak judicial independence.

Egyptian human rights organization have documented the arrests of over 160 people, often in mass arrests, since February in relation to the ongoing crackdown on dissidents and perceived critics. These amendments, and several other laws that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved in recent years, such as new media laws and laws to expand the use of military courts to try civilians, violate international law standards including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Since al-Sisi secured a second term in elections that were largely neither free nor fair in March 2018, his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arbitrary arrests against political opponents, activists, and many others who have voiced even mild criticism of the government. The Egyptian government and state media have framed this repression under the guise of combating terrorism, and al-Sisi has increasingly invoked terrorism and the country’s state of emergency law to silence peaceful activists.

In July 2013, the African Union Peace and Security Council suspended Egypt’s membership in all African Union activities following the forcible removal of former President Mohamed Morsy by the army, which was led by al-Sisi, then the defense minister. The suspension ended after al-Sisi was elected President in June 2014.

But Egypt has failed to effectively investigate or to hold any official or member of the security forces accountable for the mass killings of protesters in the summer of 2013 despite several national and international calls, including by the ACHPR, and despite incriminating evidence. In August 2013, Egyptian security forces most likely at least 817 people in a few hours during its violent dispersal of the largely peaceful pro-Morsy sit-in in Cairo’s Raba’ Square. The killings likely amounted to crimes against humanity.

“Through such sessions, Egypt is trying to whitewash its dire record of abuses,” George Kegoro, executive director of Kenya Human Rights Commission said. “The African human rights commission should take the opportunity of this meeting to vigorously engage the Egypt government on its own actions that threaten the rights, and the very lives, of many Egyptians.”

The co-signing organizations are:

Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
Business and Human Rights Tanzania

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
EuroMed Rights
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)

Kenya Human Rights Commission
Ligue Sénégalaise des Droits Humains (LSDH)
Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
The Freedom Initiative
The International Commission of Jurists
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman speaks during the inaugural Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing Sunday, May 14, 2017.

© 2019 Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP

(New York) – The Chinese government should ensure the projects it finances or engages in under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) respect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 25-27, 2019, President Xi Jinping will host heads of state and international organization leaders at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The BRI, announced in 2013, is China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment program stretching across some 70 countries, linking China to the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe via land and maritime networks.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government should set out requirements to enable meaningful consultation with groups of people potentially affected by proposed projects. It should also ensure that affected communities can openly express their views without fear of reprisal. Other governments, the United Nations, and financial institutions should press Beijing to adopt such protections.

“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Criticisms of some Belt and Road projects – such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation – suggest a superficial commitment.”

In recent years, some BRI projects have not conducted or disclosed adequate environmental and social impact assessments, or sufficiently consulted local communities that would be affected by the projects during planning and construction processes, prompting widespread protests.

Such practices are inconsistent with basic obligations of states under international human rights law concerning a healthy and sustainable environment. Some BRI projects have also drawn criticism for facilitating corruption, nontransparent loan agreements, and noncompetitive contracts that require the use of Chinese companies. Amid inflated project costs, several BRI recipient countries, such as Djibouti, Pakistan, and the Maldives, are at high risk of debt distress, potentially diverting limited government resources away from essential services to debt servicing.

The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, two of China’s policy banks and the biggest financiers of the BRI, have not publicly articulated mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability, or respect for human rights in financing BRI projects. A policy document issued in 2017 by the Office of the Leading Group for the Belt and Road Initiative, the government body that oversees implementation of the BRI, made no mention of human rights.

In Pakistan, the Chinese government has made developing the port city of Gwadar the centerpiece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship BRI project totaling US$62 billion. In 2015, as part of the project, the Chinese government offered a loan of $130 million to build the East Bay Expressway, which will link the port to a major national highway. Since the Chinese state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) started construction on the highway in October 2018, local fishermen in Gwadar have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and consultations, and potential impacts on their livelihoods. They have held news conferences, strikes, and marches to protest the highway, which they allege would block their access to the sea and deprive them of their ancestral source of livelihood without offering any alternatives. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan assured “inclusive development” but construction has proceeded without any of the fishermen’s demands being addressed.

In Myanmar, the Chinese government has ramped-up pressure on Myanmar authorities over the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State. The Myanmar government suspended the construction of the dam in 2011, after nationwide protests. Critics say the mega-dam would cause large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods, wide-scale environmental damage, and destruction of cultural heritage sites significant to the ethnic Kachin people. The project has been criticized for having little transparency. In February, a Chinese government statement contending that most Kachin people support the revival of the dam project drew thousands of people to march in opposition to the claim. The Myanmar government briefly detained a protest leader.

In Sri Lanka, the CCCC in January completed the first phase of construction of Colombo Port City, a financial district in the country’s capital. The $1.4 billion development project has drawn continuing protests over environmental harm. Many residents fear that land reclamation required for the project would lead to coastal erosion and reduce fish populations, threatening the lagoon ecosystem and fishermen’s livelihoods. As with many other BRI projects, the agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the CCCC has not been made public.

The Chinese government and state-owned banks have responded to community opposition to planned Belt and Road projects in some cases. In March, Chinese authorities dropped a plan to blast rocky outcrops and islets in the upper reaches of the Mekong River to allow smooth passage of large cargo vessels, after strong protests by residents and environmental groups from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Also in March, the state-owned Bank of China said it would evaluate the funding commitment to the Batang Toru hydropower plant in Indonesia, asserting that the bank was committed to supporting environmental protection and corporate social responsibility. Critics fear the dam would cause environmental degradation and threaten the critically endangered orangutan.

“People and governments in some ‘Belt and Road’ countries are pushing back against threats to their physical, financial, and environmental well-being,” Wang said. “Chinese authorities should respond by committing to meaningful community consultation, project transparency, respect for peaceful protest, and addressing community concerns.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am