Click to expand Image A gold trading shop in Santa Milagrose, Jose Panganiban, Philippines  © 2014 Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

On November 29, Swiss citizens will decide whether Swiss companies should be required to introduce human rights and environmental safeguards to their global business practices. Voting in favor of the proposal brought by the Responsible Business Initiative could help improve the lives of many workers and communities around the world.

Swiss businesses often source commodities from far-flung countries, heightening the risk they could be contributing to human rights abuses. Take, for example, gold and diamonds. In Venezuela, armed groups control illegal gold mines and commit horrific abuses against miners and the local population, including punitive amputations and torture. In Ghana, children perform hazardous work in small-scale gold mining areas. And in Zimbabwe, a state-owned diamond company has employed private security officers who have mistreated residents accused of mining diamonds, including setting dogs on them.

Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as other international norms, companies have a responsibility to ensure they do not cause or contribute to rights abuses in their supply chains. Companies should identify, prevent, and address human rights and environmental misconduct in their supply chains, and report publicly about their efforts.

Unfortunately, they rarely do. Human Rights Watch’s new assessment of 15 major jewelry and watch brands’ sourcing practices found that most – including Swiss jewelers Cartier, Chopard, and Harry Winston (Swatch) – lack full traceability for their diamonds, do not conduct on-the-ground human rights assessments, and do not share sufficient details on their responsible sourcing efforts.

Most existing standards for businesses are voluntary and have not sufficiently curtailed abuses in supply chains. Ultimately, only legislation can bring the level playing field that is needed. The proposed law on human rights due diligence in Switzerland could bring meaningful protection to the lives of workers and communities working at the bottom of Swiss supply chains. It would also contribute to a growing trend towards corporate accountability in Europe and beyond.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 27, 2020, 6:00 am
Click to expand Image Pakistani police officers gather at the district court in Peshawar following the killing of Tahir Shamim Ahmad, who was in court on charges of blasphemy, July 29, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad

(New York) – Pakistani authorities should urgently and impartially investigate a surge in violent attacks on members of the Ahmadiyya religious community, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. The authorities should take appropriate legal action against those responsible for threats and violence against Ahmadis.

Since July 2020, there have been at least five apparently targeted killings of members of the Ahmadiyya community. In only two of the cases have the police taken a suspect into custody. Pakistani authorities have long downplayed, and at times even encouraged, violence against Ahmadis, whose rights to freedom of religion and belief are not respected under Pakistani law.

“There are few communities in Pakistan who have suffered as much as the Ahmadis,” said Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International. “The recent wave of killings tragically underscores not just the seriousness of the threats they face, but also the callous indifference of the authorities, who have failed to protect the community or punish the perpetrators.”

On November 20, a teenage assailant is alleged to have fatally shot Dr. Tahir Mahmood, 31, as he answered the door of his house in Nankana Sahib district, Punjab. Mahmood’s father and two uncles were injured in the attack. The police reported that the suspect “confessed to having attacked the family over religious differences.”

Several recent attacks have occurred in the city of Peshawar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On November 9, Mahmoob Khan, 82, was fatally shot while waiting at a bus station. On October 6, two men on a motorcycle stopped the car of Dr. Naeemuddin Khattak, 57, a professor at the Government Superior Science College, and fired five shots, killing him. His family said he had a “heated argument over a religious issue” with a colleague a day before. Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya, a community organization, issued a statement saying Khattak had previously received threats and was targeted because of his faith.

On August 12, Meraj Ahmed, 61, was fatally shot as he was closing his shop in Peshawar. On July 29, an alleged 19-year-old assailant killed Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 57, inside a high-security courtroom. Naseem was facing trial for blasphemy accusations. In a video that circulated on social media, the suspect states that Naseem was a “blasphemer.”

Successive Pakistani governments have failed to protect the human rights and security of the Ahmadiyya community. The penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are banned from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques, or making the Muslim call for prayer.

The authorities arbitrarily arrest, detain, and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offenses because of their religious beliefs. The police have often been complicit in harassment and bringing fabricated charges against Ahmadis or have not intervened to stop anti-Ahmadi violence. The government’s failure to address religious persecution of Ahmadis has facilitated violence against them in the name of religion.

“Pakistan was part of the consensus at the UN General Assembly that required that states take active measures to ensure that persons belonging to religious minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law,” said Ian Seiderman, legal and policy director at the International Commission of Jurists. “The Pakistani government has completely failed to do so in the case of the Ahmadis.”

The Pakistani government also promotes discriminatory practices against Ahmadis. For example, all Pakistani Muslim citizens applying for passports are obliged to sign a statement explicitly stating that they consider the founder of the Ahmadi community an “imposter,” and consider Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.

Pakistani laws against the Ahmadiyya community violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Pakistan ratified in 2010, including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association, and to profess and practice one’s own religion.

Independent experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council, including the special rapporteurs on the freedom of religion or belief and the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, have previously expressed concern at the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments should take immediate legal and policy measures to eliminate widespread and rampant discrimination and social exclusion faced by the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should repeal the blasphemy law and all anti-Ahmadiyya provisions.”

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 26, 2020, 2:00 pm
Click to expand Image   The opening session of Iraq’s new parliament on September 3, 2018 in Baghdad, Iraq. © 2018 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Iraqi lawmakers are considering a draft law on information technology crimes that could be used to stifle free expression, Human Rights Watch said today.

Free speech is already under attack in Iraq, and on November 23, 2020 lawmakers discussed this  draft law and planned to hold a second reading during the week of November 29. The bill includes vague provisions that will allow Iraqi authorities to harshly punish expression they decide constitutes a threat to governmental, social, or religious interests.

“This law would give Iraqi authorities yet another tool to suppress dissent over the main medium that journalists, activists, and the general public rely on for information and open debate,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If parliament passes the law, it will further undermine the already narrow field for free speech and stifle public discussion and debate online.”

In 2011, Iraq’s Council of Ministers proposed an “Information Technology Crimes Bill” to parliament. Human Rights Watch warned at the time that it would most likely be used to restrict free speech, in violation of international law, and pose a severe threat to journalists, whistleblowers, and peaceful activists. The law did not pass at the time, but on November 23, the Iraqi parliament discussed the same draft piece of legislation – often referred to as the cybercrimes bill, which a group of lawmakers had reintroduced in parliament in 2019.

The bill states in article 2 that it aims “to provide legal protection for the legitimate use of computers and information networks and punish those who commit acts that constitute an encroachment on the rights of their users.” The bill provides penalties for the use of computers in connection with various prohibited activities, such as financial fraud and misappropriation (article 7), money laundering (article 10), network disruptions (article 14), illicit monitoring (articles 15(1)(b) and 16), and intellectual property violations (article 21).

The bill is not narrowly targeted, however. Several articles criminalize the use of computers in connection with a wide range of broadly defined activities, many of which have been unregulated, without any specific criteria for what would constitute a crime. These articles appear to conflict with international law and the Iraqi constitution, and would seriously curtail the right to freedom of expression and association.

For example, article 3 sets a term of up to life in prison and a fine of between roughly USD$21,000 and $42,000 for anyone who intentionally uses computer devices and the internet for “undermining the independence, unity, or safety of the country, or its supreme economic, political, military, or security interests,” or “participating, negotiating, promoting, contracting with, or dealing with a hostile entity in any way with the purpose of disrupting security and public order or endangering the country.”

Article 6 allows for the same prison term and fine for using a computer or information network for “inflaming sectarian tensions or strife; disturbing security and the public order; or defaming the country;” or “publishing or broadcasting false or misleading events for the purpose of weakening confidence in the electronic financial system, electronic commercial or financial documents, or similar things, or damaging the national economy and financial confidence in the state.”

Article 21 sets a minimum one-year prison term for “any person who encroaches on any religious, moral, family, or social values or principles or the sanctity of private life using an information network or computer devices in any shape or form.” Article 22 provides for a prison sentence and fine for anyone who “creates, administers, or helps to create a site on an information network that promotes or incites to licentiousness and obscenity or any programs, information, photographs, or films that infringe on probity or public morals or advocate or propagate such things.”

Given the vagueness and breadth of these articles, as well as the severity of the punishments, the authorities could use them to punish otherwise lawful expression that they claim constitutes a threat to some governmental, religious, or social interest. Or officials could use it to deter legitimate criticisms of, or peaceful challenges to, government or religious officials or policies.

In addition, the bill criminalizes the “promotion of terrorist acts” without defining these acts or what constitutes “promotion.” Terrorism is not clearly defined in Iraqi law and judges have condemned people to death or life sentences merely for working in a hospital during a time it was under Islamic State (ISIS) control, for example, or for providing water to ISIS fighters on the front line, even if against the accused person’s will.

The effort to pass the bill comes at a time when free speech is already under attack in Iraq. In June, Human Rights Watch released a report on the growing number of prosecutions of journalists under defamation and incitement laws in the country, including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“This parliament had an opportunity to use its term in office to improve the rights of Iraqis, but instead it seems willing to wield its power to give the government even more tools to suppress free speech,” Wille said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 5:30 pm
Click to expand Image A pedestrian walks past the GitHub Inc. offices in San Francisco, California, United States on Monday, June 4, 2018. © 2018 Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(New York) – A decision by GitHub, a leading software development platform, to reinstate a popular free software tool for downloading videos, means that human rights groups will be able to continue to use the software without interruption to preserve documentation of human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch, Mnemonic, and WITNESS said today. GitHub had removed the code for the software, youtube-dl, from its platform in response to a request by the Recording Industry Association of America Inc (RIAA).

youtube-dl is one of the primary tools used to download videos from hundreds of websites, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The tool is maintained and updated on GitHub. Videos posted online are essential for human rights investigations and research to expose human rights violations and provide evidence in legal proceedings to hold human rights violators accountable, including in international tribunals.

GitHub did the right thing in reinstating youtube-dl, following a spurious copyright claim, the organizations said. It is a vital tool for preserving and archiving documentation of human rights abuses to preserve evidence that can bring the abusers to justice.

On October 23, the Recording Industry Association of America submitted a Digital Millennium Copyright Act request to GitHub to remove all public code repositories of youtube-dl, which essentially constitute the code behind the tool. This request would have left the youtube-dl developers without a key platform to coordinate with other developers working on the open-source tool. These requests are legal notices sent to online service providers that ask them to remove material that allegedly infringes on copyright.

Microsoft-owned GitHub complied with the request a few days later. On November 16, GitHub reversed course and reinstated youtube-dl to its platform, saying that it did so after it “received additional information about the project” that enabled it to reverse its decision.

While there is a possibility that youtube-dl might be used to download copyrighted material like Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off video and other videos mentioned in the request, the Recording Industry Association of America did not provide evidence that this had happened. Instead, it contended that youtube-dl should be removed for use by anyone for any purpose.

During the weeks youtube-dl was removed from GitHub’s platform, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and youtube-dl provided GitHub with information on the legitimate uses of the tool, including “changing playback speeds for accessibility, preserving evidence in the fight for human rights, aiding journalists in fact-checking, and downloading Creative Commons-licensed or public domain videos.”

The code behind youtube-dl is used by dozens of other archival tools and browser plug-ins. Given how important it is across platforms, the attempted removal of youtube-dl from GitHub threatened to do serious damage, the groups said. GitHub is used by the small group of programmers and external contributors behind youtube-dl to help manage the constant updates needed to keep up with the way social media platforms and other websites update their services.

As a recent Human Right Watch report “Video Unavailable” notes, the ability to download, archive, and preserve videos documenting human rights abuses is crucial for human rights work because that potential evidence can be removed by the uploader or by the platform where it was published at any moment, especially as commercial platforms like YouTube prohibit graphic violence on their platforms.

The removal of this tool would seriously hamper a key form of evidence gathering. Social media platforms themselves have acknowledged the problem of losing human rights documentation when they remove content and have encouraged groups to archive videos.

“We use youtube-dl to archive and preserve videos related to human rights violations at the highest resolution available,” said Nicole Martin, associate director of archives and digital systems at Human Rights Watch. “Losing the ability to download and preserve content would be disastrous to efforts to hold abusers accountable.”

The archival and human rights group Mnemonic has used youtube-dl to preserve over two million videos from Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In its own evaluations it has found a substantial portion of these videos would most likely disappear without the ability to archive them.

“Mnemonic’s most recent review of our archived videos from the Syrian conflict revealed that 23 percent of videos in collections of verified human rights documentation are no longer available on YouTube,” said Dia Kayyali, associate advocacy director at Mnemonic. “Without youtube-dl, that content could have been lost forever.”

People rely on social media platforms as the primary way they access the internet and share information throughout the world. “youtube-dl is essential in the accessible and transparent workflows we employ with our local partners to collect and preserve documentation for human rights advocacy and legal evidence,” said Yvonne Ng, archives program manager at WITNESS.

This free tool enables people to retrieve information and have it accessible offline, especially in low-bandwidth situations or when the internet has been shut down, the groups said.

The Recording Industry Association of America’s request was based on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, also known as the “anti-circumvention” rule, which prohibits bypassing, removing, or revealing defects in “technical protection measures” that control not just use but also access to copyrighted works. These protection measures control activities as disparate as who can fix cars and tractors, who can audit the security of medical implants, and who can refill a printer cartridge.

The rule has been applied in ways that hamper public interest archiving by libraries and other institutions, since copyright holders allege that these activities constitute circumventing the technical protection measures to infringe on copyright. The EFF has argued, and GitHub agreed, that its use in the youtube-dl case was a misapplication of the law.

Human Rights Watch contacted the Recording Industry Association of America, GitHub, and youtube-dl for comment. The association did not respond, and youtube-dl declined to comment on the events due to the ongoing legal case. However, youtube-dl did note the importance of GitHub as a platform and explained the origins of its tool. A spokesperson from GitHub said in a November 12 email to Human Rights Watch, prior to the tool’s reinstatement, that “GitHub believes that, as applied to source code, Section 1201 is outdated and too broad, often sweeping up code that has otherwise lawful purposes, but we are nonetheless required to comply with the law.”

The association’s attempt to use Section 1201 this way raises concerns about future efforts to misuse the law to restrict access to the internet’s archival tools that human rights organizations rely on, the organizations said.

GitHub announced new measures to address similar situations in the future. It said it plans to change how it evaluates requests under Section 1201, and to establish and donate US$1 million to a developer defense fund to support open-source developers on GitHub from unwarranted Section 1201 takedown claims. It also said it is advocating changing the copyright law’s anti-circumvention provisions.

This case points to a larger problem of flaws in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the organizations said. The law gives copyright holders very broad powers to impede the use of tools even for legal applications that are in the public interest, like preserving evidence of human rights crimes.

Elsewhere, Human Rights Watch has also warned that abusive takedowns for alleged copyright violations under other Digital Millennium Copyright Act provisions can become a powerful tool for silencing criticism and commentary online.

The provisions in the copyright law are outdated and overbroad, the organizations said. Policymakers need to ensure copyright laws don’t improperly restrict rights or eliminate key sources of evidence to hold rights abusers and war criminals accountable.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 3:00 pm
Click to expand Image The point of impact of a unitary parachute-retarded blast and fragmentation Smerch rocket on a street in Barda. The impacts of the metal fragments produced by the detonation of this weapon are visible in the asphalt. © 2020 Aziz Karimov

(Geneva, November 25, 2020) – Countries still using and producing cluster munitions should reject these indiscriminate weapons and join the international treaty banning them, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing the 100-page Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 report.

“Certain actors have yet to accept that most of the world prohibits cluster munitions. These weapons should no longer be used or produced under any circumstances,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “To prevent further human suffering, greater effort is needed to ensure that the stigma against cluster munitions sticks.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can maim and kill like landmines for years.

In October, Armenia and Azerbaijan used cluster munitions against each other during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Libyan Arab Armed Forces, an armed group under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, used cluster munitions in airstrikes on and around the capital, Tripoli, in 2019.

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 reports that 286 people were killed or wounded by cluster munitions in 2019, of whom 232 were in Syria, where government forces, with the assistance of Russia, have undertaken more than 686 cluster munition attacks since July 2012.

A total of 110 states have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which took effect on August 1, 2010. It comprehensively bans cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles. The treaty’s humanitarian provisions require states to clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and provide victim assistance.

There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfer of cluster munitions by any state party since the treaty took effect. However, since then, cluster munitions have been used in Cambodia, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Civilians accounted for 99 percent of all cluster munition casualties worldwide in 2019, where the status was recorded, as in previous years. Forty percent of all recorded cluster munition casualties have been children.

“The treaty banning cluster munitions is firmly taking hold, but all governments need to unequivocally condemn any use and production of cluster munitions,” Goose said. “Governments committed to eradicating cluster munitions should demonstrate that this goal is achievable by implementing the treaty’s provisions.”

The treaty also requires member states to “promote the norms” established by the treaty and make their “best efforts” to discourage any use of cluster munitions.

Under the treaty, 36 member states have destroyed a collective total of 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions, 99 percent of all cluster munitions that member states have reported stockpiling. 

In 2019, Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 212 cluster munitions and more than 14,000 submunitions.

The treaty’s member states include 17 former producers of cluster munitions. However, 16 non-signatories have not made a commitment to end their production, including China and Russia, which are both actively researching and developing new types of cluster munitions. A 2017 Trump administration policy allows the United States to develop, acquire, and use cluster munitions.

“Governments that still regard cluster munitions as legitimate weapons show a shocking disregard for the victims of these weapons,” Goose said.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 is the 11th annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to eradicate cluster munitions.

On November 25-27, 2020, Switzerland will convene the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 11:00 am
Click to expand Image 500 tents to shelter migrants were set up on Place de la République in Paris on November 23, 2020, before being violently dismantled by police forces. © 2020 Utopia 56 

On Monday night, I felt shame and disgust as I watched videos of law enforcement officers from my own country violently removing people from their tents in Paris’ Place de la République, confiscating makeshift shelters and sleeping bags, and violently dispersing them with tear gas and batons. Other videos showed police escorting them to the outskirts of Paris, far from public view. These people had set up camp in the heart of Paris to draw the authorities’ attention to their desperate situation.

In Paris, as in Calais or Grande-Synthe, asylum seekers and migrants survive in undignified conditions, and are victims of almost daily harassment as police dismantle their makeshift shelters and brutally disperse them without offering alternative accommodation. Last week, police dismantled a makeshift camp in Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb, leaving as many as 1,000 people without shelter. And all of this amid a public health emergency as winter approaches.

Without social media videos, these shameful acts might have remained invisible. A journalist at the scene was himself violently attacked by the police. France’s Interior Minister described the images as “shocking,” but just yesterday, the National Assembly adopted legislation seeking to restrict the dissemination of images depicting police operations, which that same minister and the rest of the government support. The new law, a provision of the so-called "Global Security" bill, could seriously limit the ability of the media and ordinary citizens to document law enforcement abuses, which could lead to impunity for these actions. The provision has yet to be adopted by the Senate. After the images were circulated, investigations were opened by the General Inspection of the National Police (IGPN) and the Paris Prosecutor’s Office.

France should respect its human rights obligations and ensure the respect of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers as well as human and dignified treatment. Instead of mobilizing police officers to confiscate tents and sleeping bags in the middle of the night, French authorities should rally to provide safe accommodation for and respect the dignity of those on the streets. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 8:10 am
Click to expand Image People take part in an International Women's Day march in London, England, against criminalization of sex work and the associated stigma, unsafe work conditions, and violence against sex workers, March 08, 2018. © 2018 Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media

The Scottish government is holding a consultation on “how best to challenge men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland, reducing the harms associated with prostitution and supporting women involved to exit.” Scotland’s laws currently criminalize many activities related to the sale and purchase of sex, including publicly soliciting or loitering for the purposes of selling sex, and “brothel keeping.”

The opportunity for members of the public, especially people currently engaged in sex work, to weigh in is important. But the government’s framing of the consultation betrays a lack of understanding of the diversity of people who sell and buy sex.  It also excludes the approach that best reflects international human rights law and research on how best to protect the safety of people who exchange sex for money – full decriminalization. The consultation asks people which of four approaches they see as most effective at preventing violence against woman and girls, but those options do not include full decriminalization.

As Human Rights Watch wrote in our submission, our research in countries including  Cambodia, China, South Africa, Tanzania, and the United States has led us to support full decriminalization of sex work. Our findings indicate that even when only buying sex is criminalized, it makes it harder for sex workers to protect themselves from violence. Laws prohibiting “brothel-keeping” often prevent sex workers from sharing work premises and protecting each other.

Laws such as those in Scotland criminalizing loitering and soliciting can force sex workers to make hurried and less cautious decisions about potential clients, or to work in more dangerous locations. These laws also leave many sex workers with criminal records that can make it harder to transition into other forms of work and access benefits and services.

The consultation also highlights “links between human trafficking, prostitution and serious organized crime.” Human Rights Watch has also conducted extensive research on human trafficking and works to end human trafficking. Sex work is the consensual exchange of sex between adults. Human trafficking is a separate issue—it is a serious human rights abuse and a crime and should always be investigated and prosecuted. Laws and policies that clearly distinguish between sex work and the crime of human trafficking help protect both sex workers and crime victims.

Scotland’s consultation on sex work could help inform a new approach that better protects the safety and well-being of sex workers—if the government is prepared to hear those views.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 8:00 am
Click to expand Image Top row: Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan. Bottom row: Pham Chi Thanh, Tran Duc Thach, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy. © Private

(New York) – The Vietnamese authorities should immediately drop all charges and release the dissident and poet Tran Duc Thach, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 23, 2020, Vietnamese police arrested Tran Duc Thach, a longtime dissident in Vietnam, for being affiliated with a pro-democracy group. He was charged with subversion, and is scheduled to go on trial on November 30.

“The Vietnamese government wants to punish Tran Duc Thach for his work promoting human rights and justice, claiming his exercise of free speech is a crime,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “Other governments should be raising their concerns ahead of his trial and calling for his release.”

After Tran Duc Thach’s arrest, the authorities did not allow him to see his attorney until November 5, and then only under police supervision. His lawyer, Ha Huy Son, told the media he could not even photocopy Tran Duc Thach’s indictment papers, but only take notes by hand.

Tran Duc Thach, 69, has written hundreds of poems, a novel, and numerous articles, most of which condemn corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses in Vietnam. A veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, he was a member of the Nghe An Writers Club. His 1988 novel, Doi ban tu (Two Companions in Prison) described the arbitrary nature of Vietnam’s legal system and the inhumane conditions in Vietnamese prisons. Poems published under the title Dieu chua thay (Things Still Untold) speak about life without freedom and justice.

His short memoir, Ho chon nguoi am anh (A Haunting Collective Grave), retells the story of the mass killing of civilians by northern army soldiers at Tan Lap hamlet in Dong Nai province in April 1975, which he witnessed.

The authorities have repeatedly harassed him since 1975. In 1978, to protest his mistreatment, he set himself on fire and was badly burned. In 2008, he participated in anti-China protests and was arrested in September that year. He was accused of writing “many articles that distort the truth, slander, and badmouth the party and the state, and publishing them on To Quoc magazine,” a clandestine dissident bulletin. In October 2009, a court found him guilty of carrying out propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

After completing his prison term in 2011, Tran Duc Thach resumed his criticism of the Communist Party and the state. He joined the Brotherhood for Democracy in April 2013. On April 23, 2020, police arrested him in Nghe An province and charged him with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s government” under article 109 of the penal code. Tran Duc Thach is the 10th member of the Brotherhood for Democracy arrested in recent years.

The Brotherhood for Democracy was founded in April 2013 by the dissident Nguyen Van Dai and fellow activists with a stated goal “to defend human rights recognized by the Vietnam Constitution and international conventions” and “to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilized, and just society for Vietnam.” The group provides a network for activists both in and outside of Vietnam who campaign for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.

Seven members of the group – Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Van Troi, Tran Thi Xuan, Nguyen Van Tuc, and Nguyen Trung Truc – are serving long prison terms for “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the penal code. Two other members, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, were sent directly from prison to exile in Germany.

The jurists presiding over Tran Duc Thach’s trial have a record of harsh punishments of dissidents. Judge Tran Ngoc Son and Judge Vi Van Chat have convicted and issued severe prison sentences for several pro-democracy campaigners. In December 2011, Vi Van Chat chaired the trial of a blogger, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, and a pastor, Nguyen Trung Ton, for conducting propaganda against the state. They were convicted and sentenced to five years and two years in prison respectively. In January 2013, Tran Ngoc Son and Vi Van Chat presided over the trial of 14 pro-democracy activists, and convicted and sentenced them to up to 13 years in prison. In August 2018, the two judges  presided over the trial of a democracy campaigner, Le Dinh Luong, convicting and sentencing him to 20 years in prison.

“Vietnam’s courts should be working to protect freedom of expression and other human rights, not enforcing the Communist Party’s monopoly on power,” Sifton said. “Tran Duc Thach isn’t going to receive a fair trial, because Vietnam doesn’t have an independent and impartial judiciary.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 25, 2020, 5:11 am
Click to expand Image Demonstrators take part in a protest demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, November 21, 2020. © REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

(Washington, DC) – Guatemalan authorities should investigate and hold accountable security forces that responded with excessive force during the protests on November 21, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. The response by law enforcement to individual acts of violence in any protest should not deny the majority of peaceful protesters their right to freedom of assembly nor violate other rights, such as protection against arbitrary detention or inhuman or degrading treatment.

On November 21, demonstrators took to the streets to protest the adoption of the 2021 budged by Guatemala’s Congress on November 17 after a summary and opaque process. The budget significantly cut social programs on malnutrition, education, poverty, housing, and health, as well as the budgets for the Judiciary and the Ombudsperson’s Office, which could seriously affect their work.

“Guatemalan authorities should conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into allegations of excessive force by security forces, in addition to violence by protesters, and ensure the right to peaceful assembly,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Ensuring accountability is key to deterring future abuses by security forces and crimes in the context of protests.”

On November 20, President Alejandro Giammatei announced that he would not veto the budget approved by Congress.

In downtown Guatemala City, where protests were largely peaceful, local media outlets and the Ombudsperson’s Office reported excessive use of force by security forces, injuring at least 17 protesters. They were treated in Guatemala’s General Hospital on November 21. Two of them had eye injuries–one of whom will suffer permanent damage, the Ombudsperson’s Office said. Protests also extended to other cities and municipalities.

Some individuals acted violently in the context of the protests, vandalizing, looting, and destroying property, including setting the Congress building and furniture on fire.

At least 35 people were detained during protests in Guatemala City and other municipalities. On November 22, the Ombudsperson’s Office presented a habeas corpus petition on behalf of 23 detainees in Guatemala City, saying that they had been arbitrarily detained and attacked by security forces and needed medical attention. During a hearing held that day against nine protesters detained by the national police, the Prosecutor’s Office accused them of insulting police officers and breaking into the Congress building. The judge ruled there was no evidence implicating them in the crimes and released all nine. The remaining hearings are currently taking place.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 2:40 pm
Click to expand Image A view of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, October 1, 2018.  © AP Photo/Richard Drew

(Bangkok) – Eleven countries from the Asia-Pacific region were among the small minority that voted against a United Nations resolution opposing the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 17, 120 UN member states voted in favor of a resolution in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly reiterating a call for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment. In December, the General Assembly plenary is expected to adopt the resolution, which shows the world’s rejection of this inherently cruel and irrevocable form of punishment.

Only 39 countries voted against the resolution. The 11 from the Asia-Pacific region were: Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Japan, the Maldives, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Tonga.

“It’s no surprise the governments that voted against a death penalty moratorium include some of the most serious rights violators in the world,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that 11 Asian and Pacific governments voted against the UN resolution, including many that still carry out executions, shows how far the region needs to go to develop justice systems that respect human rights.”

The countries voting in favor of the moratorium should urgently take necessary steps towards abolition of the death penalty, and should press the 39 countries that voted against the measure to place a moratorium on executions. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

The UN member states’ call for a moratorium effectively neutralizes an amendment to the resolution that Singapore introduced on behalf of 33 countries – including many in Asia – that asserts the “sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems, including determining appropriate legal penalties.”

The resolution went further than previous versions. For the first time, women were acknowledged as a group who are subject to the discriminatory application of the death penalty. Disadvantaged and minority groups were again recognized as disproportionately represented among death row inmates. The resolution raised concerns about the use of the death penalty against children, in particular the need to restrict the death penalty’s use when an individuals’ age cannot be determined.

Previous resolutions called for governments to be transparent about the death penalty by publishing information about the age, race, sex, and nationality of people on death row, including the numbers of people sentenced, awaiting executions, and those whose sentences were commuted on appeal. Asian governments that still use capital punishment have shown little transparency regarding death penalty statistics, Human Rights Watch said.

The seven General Assembly resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions adopted since 2007 demonstrate a growing global consensus against the death penalty. However, many people in Asia are still being put to death. At the end of 2019, at least 26,604 people were languishing on death row around the world. By the end of 2019, Pakistan had one of the world’s largest known death row populations. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka also have swelling numbers of inmates on death row, while in Singapore there are reportedly 50 people on death row who have exhausted all appeals. In many of these countries, the death penalty is mandatory for a range of offenses, including non-violent drug offenses, despite calls from the UN special rapporteurs on summary executions and on torture that “executions for drug crimes amount to a violation of international law and are unlawful killings.”

It is largely accepted that China is the world’s largest executioner followed by Iran. Dui Hua, a nongovernmental organization that tracks China’s death penalty statistics, estimates that 84,000 executions occurred in China between 2002 to 2018, though the numbers appear to be declining significantly since a 2007 decision allowing the Supreme People’s Court to review all death sentences. The exact numbers of death sentences carried out in China are unknown and remain a state secret. It has not been possible to get accurate figures from North Korea, Vietnam, and Laos. Human Rights Watch has documented public executions in North Korea, especially in political prison camps (kwanliso). Despite executions being considered a state secret in Vietnam, the Ministry of Public Security reported in early 2017 that authorities executed 429 persons between 2013 and 2016.

Malaysia, which voted in favor of the moratorium, holds approximately 1,324 people on death row. In October 2018, the Malaysian government imposed a moratorium on executions and announced its intention to abolish the death penalty. In March 2019, however, it backtracked, announcing that it would maintain the death penalty but would merely end the mandatory application of the punishment. While the moratorium on executions appears to remain in place, the Malaysian government has yet to take steps to end the use of the mandatory death penalty.

Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam were among the 24 countries that abstained from voting. Indonesia, which has not executed anyone since 2016, has approximately 274 people awaiting execution, including 60 people who have been on death row for 10 years. At least 80 death sentences were handed down in 2019, a significant increase from the 48 handed down in 2018.

More than 15 Asia-Pacific countries voted in favor of the resolution. These included Sri Lanka and the Philippines, despite their moving in the opposite direction. Last year, the Sri Lankan government threatened to end its 43-year de facto moratorium, which the courts rejected. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to reinstate the death penalty.

In its December 2007 resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, the UN General Assembly stated that “there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable.”

“The shocking number of people sitting on death row in Asia make the region an aberration in the global move towards abolition of the death penalty,” Robertson said. “UN member states that supported the moratorium should band together to put concerted pressure on countries to get rid of the death penalty and commute all death sentences.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 2:00 pm
Click to expand Image The leader of the Mai Mai Sheka militia group, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, campaigns for a seat in parliament ahead of the November 2011 national elections, despite being sought on a Congolese arrest warrant for crimes against humanity, including sexual violence. Walikale, North Kivu, November 24, 2011. © 2011 AFP/File

(Goma) – A Congolese military court’s conviction of the militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka and two co-accused for serious abuses is a significant step in the fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 23, 2020, a military court in Goma, North Kivu province, found Sheka guilty of seven counts of war crimes committed by his militia, the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), in Walikale and Masisi territories in 2010 and between 2012 and 2014. The charges included mass rape and sexual slavery, murder, pillage, and recruitment of child soldiers. While Sheka’s sentence of life in prison delivers a measure of justice for his many victims, the trial revealed serious shortcomings, including the defendants’ lack of the right to appeal the verdict, and the protection of victims and witnesses.

“Sheka’s conviction and life sentence is an important step in the fight against impunity in Congo and a testament to the work of survivors and activists who took great personal risks in the pursuit of justice,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “At a time when the Congolese government is considering plans for transitional justice, it should draw lessons – both successes and flaws – from this protracted investigation and judicial process.”

The court also sentenced an NDC fighter, Jean Claude Lukambo, alias “Kamutoto,” to 15 years in prison for insurrection and murder. Séraphin Nzitonda, alias “Lionceau,” a former leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR) and an ally of Sheka’s NDC, was found guilty of rape as a crime against humanity and sentenced to life in prison. Sheka’s nurse, Jean Ndoole Batechi, was acquitted. Four other co-accused remain at large.

Sheka and the co-accused were tried by a military “operational court,” which does not allow for the right to appeal a conviction and sentence to a higher tribunal, contrary to Congo’s constitution and in violation of international human rights law. In keeping with fair trial requirements, the Congolese government should ensure a right to appeal before all civilian and military criminal courts in Congo.

Human Rights Watch worked with two local human rights defenders to monitor the trial since it began in November 2018, and interviewed 13 survivors of abuses, legal counsel, judicial officers, United Nations officials, and members of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations. Human Rights Watch has not yet obtained a copy of the judgment but attended the November 23 hearing during which the verdict was announced.

During the trial, the panel of five judges examined allegations that Sheka’s fighters, along with two other armed groups, raped more than 300 women and dozens of girls as well as at least 23 men and 9 boys in 13 villages on the road from Kibua to Mpofi between July 30 and August 2, 2010. The trial also covered attacks between 2012 and 2014 during which NDC fighters killed, looted villages, burned houses, and recruited child soldiers.

Investigators faced tremendous difficulties in locating survivors as the investigators operated in an active conflict zone over several years. Many victims identified in the early stages of the investigations subsequently had to relocate due to ongoing insecurity and did not participate in the trial as a result. Important evidence such as medical certificates that confirm instances of rape disappeared or were damaged by armed groups.

Despite the support from international partners, shortcomings in the protection of victims and witnesses raised serious concerns, Human Rights Watch said. Investigators interviewed more than 290 victims ahead of the trial but only 11 appeared in court, including six former child soldiers and two survivors of mass rape. Many were simply unable to travel due to fears of reprisals, intimidation, threats, and ongoing insecurity. Several victims who were supposed to only stay a few days in Goma to testify ended up remaining for months as hearings were repeatedly postponed, increasing security risks.

A former NDC child soldier from the town of Pinga in Walikale who travelled to Goma in 2019 to testify told Human Rights Watch that fighters loyal to Sheka intimidated his family in Walikale: “The threat came after I had been away [from Pinga] for a long time, because everyone knew why I was gone.... [The fighters] said that anyone who went to Goma and lied against Sheka [at the trial] would have to explain themselves.” He said that Sheka himself called him repeatedly when he was waiting to testify in Goma and threatened to have him killed. The witness’s father fled Pinga while the former child soldier delayed his return home, forcing him to miss school for the rest of the year.

He said that on his return to Pinga, 10 fighters came to his house, tied him up, and took him to their camp: “They told me that I was guilty of treason against the [NDC] movement. They hit me with sticks until my clothes were torn.” He said he was held one week in the open, hands tied, and beaten daily. He was eventually released when his family paid a US$400 ransom.

Local activists who identified victims and witnesses and facilitated their travel to Goma were also threatened. One activist said that Sheka and his collaborators had repeatedly threatened him both in person and by text message. He said that they told him to stop working on the case or he “would risk his life.”

Congolese authorities should work with international partners to strengthen efforts to protect victims and witnesses in grave crimes cases.

Several judicial officials were rotated since the beginning of the investigations, and four successive prosecutors were involved in the proceedings. The trial then lasted nearly two years because of the many logistical challenges, delay tactics by the defense, and the slow pace of hearings. Between March and June, hearings were suspended due to government restrictions to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

The judges did not examine credible information revealing the responsibility of high-ranking government and military officials in abuses committed by Sheka’s forces. Human Rights Watch previously found that Congolese army officers and Rwandan officials provided financial and logistical support for Sheka’s operations at various times between 2009 and 2014. Judicial authorities should investigate the responsibility of senior army officials and politicians in their support for the NDC and bring appropriate prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said.

The court awarded compensation ranging from the equivalent of US$4,000 to US$12,000 to the 11 victims who participated in the trial. These awards will have to be paid by Sheka and his co-accused. While Congolese courts have often awarded reparations to victims of sexual violence and other serious crimes, these reparations have rarely – if ever – been paid.

The involvement of Congolese government and military officials in abuses by Sheka’s forces would also be the basis for direct reparations by the government to victims. The government should design a sustainable and effective reparation system for serious international crimes and ensure reparations to all of Sheka’s victims, Human Rights Watch said.

“Congolese courts are delivering an increasing number of important verdicts, but efforts for domestic accountability should be dramatically strengthened, with reforms and international support, to end decades of impunity for mass atrocities in Congo,” Fessy said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 12:30 pm
Click to expand Image Inmates point from inside of La Modelo prison in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, March 22, 2020. Twenty-three inmates were killed and 83 were injured during protests in that prison against unsanitary conditions, lack of access to water, overcrowding, and inadequate measures to protect them from COVID-19. © 2020 AP Photo/Ivan Valencia

(New York) – A new report by international forensic experts commissioned by Human Rights Watch points to the intentional killing of detainees during a prison riot in March 2020 in Colombia, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 21, 24 prisoners died and 107 people were injured, including 76 detainees and 31 prison guards, as guards responded to a riot in La Modelo jail in Bogotá. The riot occurred in the context of several protests in prisons demanding adequate conditions to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) analyzed the 24 post-mortem examination (autopsy) reports issued by Colombia’s National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Science. They found that “Most of the gunshot wounds described in the autopsy reports are consistent with having been produced with the objective of killing.” The experts also said that “The autopsy reports do not record any signs of gunshot injuries carried out with the intention of solely injuring individuals instead of killing them.”

“This new report is based on official documentation pointing to the intentional killing of detainees, yet there is little sign of progress in the investigation into the 24 prison deaths in March,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Colombian authorities have the obligation to carry out prompt, impartial, and thorough investigations and to hold anyone responsible for use of excessive and unjustified lethal force accountable.”

IFEG is an international body of 42 preeminent independent forensic specialists from 23 countries who are recognized global leaders in the medico-legal investigation of torture, ill-treatment, and unlawful killing. The IRCT is the world’s leading center of knowledge on the physical and psychological effects of torture and ill-treatment. It is a coalition of 158 rehabilitation centers in 74 countries. The report commissioned by Human Rights Watch was by Morris Tidball-Binz, Duarte Nuno Viera, and James Lin.

On March 21, then Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said the deaths and injuries occurred as prison guards prevented a “criminal plan to carry out a jailbreak.” On March 23, La Nueva Prensa, a Colombian news outlet, published an audio recording of what appears to be a meeting between Cabello and authorities from Colombia’s National Prison System Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario, INPEC) after the riots. Cabello is heard saying that she “feels proud” and “is very thankful” to prison guards for avoiding the jailbreak.

In August, Congress appointed Cabello as the new Inspector General. The Inspector General’s Office, which carries out disciplinary investigations of government officials, is investigating the deaths in La Modelo. Cabello will take office in January, which raises serious concerns about her conflict of interest in ensuring that the La Modelo investigation is prompt, effective, and independent.

Safeguards are needed to ensure that when Cabello assumes her new role as Inspector General, the investigation into the deaths in La Modelo is independent, thorough, and capable of identifying whether those responsible for the deaths committed crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

The 24 autopsy reports reviewed by the experts did not include any photos, sketches, ballistics analyses, or information from investigations of the scene of the events. Human Rights Watch corroborated the authenticity of the reports independently.

Ten of the reports were unsigned, including two that were marked “draft.” However, official sources told the forensic experts and Human Rights Watch that no updates or revisions had been submitted as of November 9. The experts did not have access to or review any additional information, for example, any investigative or medical reports on any prisoners who may have been injured, but not killed.

The experts noted that some of the autopsies describe recent non-lethal injuries produced at or around the time of death, which were unrelated to the gunshot injuries. However, it was not possible to conclude whether any prisoners had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated from the available autopsy reports alone.

In August, Human Rights Watch met with Colombia’s attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, to discuss the deaths in La Modelo. Barbosa said that his office had not charged anyone in connection with these events at the time. He said that prosecutors were pursuing three separate investigations concerning the instigation of riots, the deaths and injuries, and whether prison guards used excessive force. As of November 13, charges still had not been brought in connection with the deaths and injuries. The Attorney General’s Office said that prosecutors had interviewed 300 of the more than 4,900 detainees who were witnesses to the events, rejecting the suggestion that the investigations had been “sloppy or slow.” The statement suggests that the Attorney General’s Office is expecting to interview nearly all detainees in La Modelo, which,  according to government figures from January 2020, holds 4,976 people.

In April, Barbosa told the media that commanders of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and groups that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had instigated the La Modelo riots. His office has yet to charge anyone in connection to these crimes.

The Inspector General’s Office has also made limited progress. On November 9, a high-level official told Human Rights Watch that the office was investigating the deaths and injuries but had yet to identify any prison guard who was allegedly responsible. One challenge of the investigation, the official said, is that on the day of the riots, guards did not keep a record of which weapon each officer was using.

International human rights law protects the rights to life and physical integrity and imposes a heightened duty of care on government for people in its custody. It also requires authorities to conduct prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into any deaths or serious injuries that occur in custody. International standards such as the UN Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that firearms may be used only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms in their relations with detainees except in self-defense, in defense of others against the immediate threat of death or serious injury, or when strictly necessary to prevent the escape of someone who poses a grave threat to life and is resisting authority.

“It is one thing to prevent detainees from escaping, and another to engage in the unlawful killing of prisoners,” Vivanco said. “Colombian authorities have an obligation to ensure that an effective investigation determines which one happened in La Modelo.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 11:00 am
Click to expand Image An artisanal miner holds an uncut diamond in her hand in South Africa, October 22, 2019. © 2019 Sumaya Hisham/Reuters Major jewelry companies are improving their sourcing of gold and diamonds, but most cannot assure consumers that their jewelry is untainted by human rights abuses. Many gold and diamond mine workers work in dangerous conditions. Covid-19 has increased risks of exploitation and abuse. Voluntary standards can encourage better practices, but only legal requirements will ensure that all jewelry and watch companies take human rights seriously.

(London) – Major jewelry companies are improving their sourcing of gold and diamonds, but most cannot assure consumers that their jewelry is untainted by human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today in advance of the holiday shopping season.

The 84-page report, “Sparkling Jewels, Opaque Supply Chains: Jewelry Companies, Changing Sourcing Practices, and Covid-19,” scrutinizes and gives rankings to 15 jewelry and watch brands in their efforts to prevent and address human rights abuses and environmental harm in their gold and diamond supply chains. Human Rights Watch reviewed the companies’ actions since Human Rights Watch first reported on these issues in 2018. While a majority of the jewelry companies examined have taken some steps to improve their practices, most still fall short of meeting international standards. 

“Many jewelry companies have made progress in sourcing their gold and diamonds responsibly, but consumers still don’t have adequate assurances that their jewelry comes free of human rights abuses,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Covid-19 pandemic demands even more vigilance from jewelry companies to identify and respond to human rights abuses.”

Human Rights Watch also assessed the impact of Covid-19 on mining and jewelry sectors. Mining workers, their families, and communities have been stripped of income where mining has stalled due to lockdowns. Where industrial mining has continued, mine workers work close together in closed spaces and sometimes live together in hostels, putting them at greater risk. In some small-scale mining areas, child labor has risen, and illegal mining and trading have increased.

Human Rights Watch conducted extensive research in numerous countries where abusive practices taint the supply chain. In Venezuela, armed groups known as “syndicates” control illegal gold mines and have committed horrific abuses against residents and miners, including punitive amputations and torture.

In Zimbabwe, the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company has employed private security officers who have mistreated residents accused of mining diamonds, including setting dogs on them.

Hazardous child labor occurs in small-scale gold mining areas in Ghana, Mali, the Philippines, and Tanzania, with children exposed to mercury used in the process. Children have died in mining accidents.

Jewelry and watch companies have a responsibility to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to rights abuses in their supply chains, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. “Due diligence” refers to a company’s process to identify, prevent, address, and remediate human rights and environmental impacts in their supply chains.

The 15 companies assessed collectively generate more than US$40 billion in annual revenue, about 15 percent of global jewelry sales. Nine companies responded in writing to letters requesting information regarding their sourcing policies and practices: Boodles, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Chow Tai Fook, Pandora, Signet, Tanishq, and Tiffany & Co. Six companies did not reply to several requests: Christ, Harry Winston, Kalyan, Mikimoto, Rolex, and TBZ. Human Rights Watch based its assessment on the information received or publicly available.

Eleven of the companies assessed have taken some steps to improve their human rights due diligence since the publication of the 2018 report, “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry: Human Rights in Supply Chains and the Responsibility of Jewelry Companies.” Companies have enhanced the traceability of their gold or diamonds; opted to source only recycled gold to avoid risks related to newly mined gold; strengthened their supplier codes of conduct; more rigorously screened their suppliers; or publicly identified their suppliers. Ten of the companies now disclose publicly more information on their due diligence to ensure respect for human rights.

However, the majority do not identify the mines of origin for their gold or diamonds, nor assess and address conditions at these mines or elsewhere in the supply chain. Few appear to have reassessed their supply chains for Covid-19 risks, or actively taken steps to protect the rights of workers in their supply chains beyond their immediate employees.

Most companies also do not report in detail on their due diligence efforts. Four – Kalyan, Mikomoto, Rolex, and TBZ – make public little to no information on their sourcing policies or practices. Such lack of transparency runs counter to international norms on responsible sourcing and means that consumers, affected communities, and the wider public are left in the dark about potential abuses.

Human Rights Watch found that none of the 15 could be ranked “excellent” but ranked two – Tiffany & Co. and Pandora – “strong” for taking significant steps toward responsible sourcing; three – Bulgari, Signet, and Cartier – as “moderate”; and three – Boodles, Chopard, and Harry Winston – as “fair.” Chow Tai Fook, Christ, and Tanishq were ranked as “weak,” and four – Kalyan, Mikimoto, Rolex, and TBZ – could not be ranked for lack of disclosure of their sourcing practices. Five were ranked higher in 2020 than in 2018: Pandora, Boodles, Chopard, Harry Winston, and Tanishq.

Click to expand Image


Human Rights Watch also assessed several broader industry or multi-stakeholder initiatives, including by the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. In addition, several initiatives are underway to use technology – such as blockchain and laser technology – to ensure full traceability of diamonds and other minerals.

However, most existing certification initiatives still lack rigor and transparency. Many still do not require full traceability, transparency, or robust on-the-ground human rights assessments from their members. Third-party audits of jewelry supply chains are often conducted remotely, and results are not publicly available.

“Despite the progress, most jewelry companies can do much more to address human rights in their supply chains and share that information with the public,” Kippenberg said. “Voluntary standards can encourage jewelry companies to adopt better practices, but ultimately only mandatory legal requirements will ensure that all jewelry companies take human rights seriously.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 8:00 am
Click to expand Image Women hold up signs demanding justice during the hearing of the president of the Fédération Haïtienne De Football (FHF), Yves Jean-Bart, regarding allegations that he abused female athletes at the country's national training center, outside the courthouse in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, Thursday, May 14, 2020. As reported in the Guardian, survivors and family members have accused Jean-Bart of coercing young female players at the Centre Technique National in Croix-des-Bouquets into having sex with him. © 2020 Associated Press (Dieu Nalio Chery)

(New York) – Football’s lifetime ban for Haitian soccer federation president Yves Jean-Bart is an important step forward to protect children and young women athletes in sport from sexual abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Federation of Association Football (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA) decision should be followed by swift action to sanction other abusers and their accomplices, criminal prosecutions in Haiti and other jurisdictions, and ongoing therapeutic support for survivors.

Ayiti: Entèdiksyon pou tout tan kont Chèf Federasyon Foutbòl la Ayiti: Entèdiksyon pou tout tan kont Chèf Federasyon Foutbòl la


After reports by The Guardian and Human Rights Watch and pressure from Haitian rights groups Kay Fanm, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA), the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), and others, over the past seven months, FIFA investigated serious allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Jean Bart, also known as “Dadou.” FIFA’s Ethics Committee handed him the maximum punishment in football on Friday, November 20, 2020.

“FIFA's decision is a vindication for all the courageous survivors of abuse and witnesses who came forward to report sexual abuse,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “As Human Rights Watch has documented, they faced personal threats and stigma in society. FIFA’s punishment is an important signal that if you are an abuser in football, your days are numbered.”

Jean-Bart had been president of the Haitian Football Federation (Fédération Haïtienne De Football, FHF) since 2000. Following their investigation into evidence of systematic sexual abuse of female players, FIFA’s Ethics Committee found Jean-Bart guilty of “having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused various female players, including minors.” He is now banned from the sport for life in Haiti and internationally, and fined 1 million Swiss francs (approximately US$1.1 million). He can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and has said he will.

Survivors of sexual abuse in Haiti told Human Rights Watch that they want justice for abuses by the president but also football sanctions for all officials who aided and knew about abuses in the national football academy. 

“Playing for Haiti, I gave my heart,” one women’s national team player told Human Rights Watch. “Without us players, you don’t have a game. I am so happy Dadou can’t abuse his power and stop us from achieving our dreams anymore.”

Since May, Human Rights Watch has worked together with the international football players’ union FIFPro, who provided lawyers and support for athletes, helped to interview witnesses, and collected evidence of systemic human rights abuses in Haitian football, including confiscation of players’ passports, labor rights abuses, grooming child athletes for sexual exploitation, and threats to kill witnesses and survivors.

Jean-Bart has been Haiti’s football federation president since 2000 and was re-elected to a sixth term in February. Jean-Bart has publicly denied all allegations and successfully sought to have a judge in Haiti purportedly “clear” him of all charges and exonerate him. That a judge made this pronouncement the day before Jean-Bart’s lifetime ban is testament to the power he wields in Haiti and the challenge survivors face in taking on Jean-Bart and his allies. In August, Human Rights Watch documented threats and attacks on witnesses and whistleblowers, which could prevent them from coming forward with evidence of abuses.

FIFA’s statement signals other sanctions against abusers and officials who knew about or facilitated abuses in the Haiti federation could come soon:

The aforementioned ethics proceedings are part of an extensive investigation concerning Mr Jean-Bart, as well as other officials within the FHF, who were identified as having allegedly been involved (as principals, accomplices or instigators) in acts of systematic sexual abuse against female football players between 2014 and 2020. The proceedings are still pending with respect to other FHF officials.

It is essential for FIFA to discipline others who took part in sexual abuse and to remove them from football, Human Rights Watch said. FIFA needs to ensure ongoing therapeutic and logistical support for players, and enforcement of any bans and fines.

“In addition to protecting survivors and witnesses, FIFA should exercise its authority to ban and sanction all officials implicated in sexual abuse or threatening or menacing witnesses during its investigation,” Worden said. “In its best form, football is fun, empowering, and healthy for young people and FIFA should do its part to ensure player safety.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 5:01 am
Click to expand Image A Tunisian woman walks past a graffiti that reads "Freedom is a daily practice" in Tunis April 26, 2011. © 2011 Reuters / Anis Mili

(Tunis) – A Tunis court on November 12, 2020 sentenced a blogger, Wajdi Mahouechi, to two years in prison for posting a Facebook video that a court official deemed offensive, Human Rights Watch said today.

Mahouechi, 31, a frequent commentator on issues of public interest, posted a video on November 1 to his Facebook page that denounced a Tunis public prosecutor’s failure to arrest and open an investigation against a Tunisian imam who appeared to justify killing people who insult the Prophet Muhammad. Prosecutors instead charged Mahouechi with “accusing officials of crimes without providing proof,” “offending others via telecommunications networks,” “public calumny,” and “insulting an officer on duty.” The charges stem from the penal code as well as Tunisia’s 2001 telecommunications code.

“Tunisia’s legal codes are rife with vague laws that the authorities use to penalize free speech and silence critical voices,” said Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Tunisia hails itself for promoting free speech since its 2011 revolution, but is regressing on protecting that right.”

The imam’s video followed the October 16, 2020 beheading of Samuel Paty, a public school teacher in France, by a Chechen refugee after Paty displayed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in his classroom as part of a lesson on freedom of expression. The video seems to have been removed from Facebook later.

In his November 1 Facebook post, Mahouechi also criticized the prosecutor for not investigating a 2019 complaint that he had filed against police officers who he alleged had beaten him. Mahouechi used language that might be viewed as vulgar, but said he was insulting only this prosecutor and not the entire judicial apparatus.

Officers from the Hay El Khadra Unit for Combatting Terrorism and Organized Crime arrested Mahouechi on November 2 and interrogated him for at least four hours in the presence of his lawyer, Mohamed Ali Bouchiba. The lawyer is the co-founder of Bloggers Without Chains, a group formed by volunteer lawyers to defend social media activists and others prosecuted for Facebook posts.

Bouchiba told Human Rights Watch that police officers had come to the Mahouechi’s family house late at night looking for him. “We knew he would be arrested,” said Bouchiba. “Officers took him just one day after he posted his video.”

Bouchiba said that Mahouechi told his interrogators that he was not targeting anyone in his post and only reacted as a whistleblower to the imam’s video for the sole purpose of denouncing extremist ideas and terrorism.

The Tunis First Instance Court convicted Mahouehchi of “accusing public officials of crimes related to their jobs without furnishing proof,” punishable by up to two years in prison under article 128 of the penal code; “knowingly harming or disturbing others via public telecommunications networks” under article 86 of the telecommunications code, which stipulates a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine up to 1,000 Tunisian dinars (around US$300); “public calumny” under article 245 of penal code; and “insulting a public officer during the performance of their duties,” punishable by up to one year in prison under article 125 of the penal code.

“We are seeing an increase of prosecutions that remind us of the arrests and trials of bloggers and social media critics in 2017,” Bouchiba said. “The prosecutions never stopped really. They just slowed down and now they’re back.”

Two reports published by Human Rights Watch, in January and October 2019, documented prosecutions of bloggers and social media activists in Tunisia for their peaceful online commentary. In these prosecutions, authorities made use of laws on criminal defamation, “spreading false information,” and “harm of others through telecommunications networks” to prosecute people who post on social media about politics, expose corruption, or criticize top officials.

Since 2017, Tunisian courts have sentenced six social media activists to prison for critical views they posted. The two-year sentence against Mahouechi is the most severe so far against a blogger for online criticism, Bouchiba said. Mahouechi is currently serving his sentence in Tunis’s Mornaguia prison. His lawyers will appeal the verdict.

“Tunisia has no excuse to prosecute peaceful critics and intimidate bloggers who attack state authorities” Goldstein said. “Parliament should move quickly to amend or delete laws that are relics of the ousted autocratic regime.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 5:00 am
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(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately clarify the status of two Chinese Muslim Uyghur men arrested in Saudi Arabia on November 20, 2020, and disclose the basis for their detentions, Human Rights Watch said today. The Saudi authorities should not forcibly return the men to China, where they are at serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture.

The arrests occurred on the eve of the G20 leaders’ summit, hosted virtually by Saudi Arabia on November 21 and 22. Human Rights Watch has previously called on G20 member countries to press Saudi Arabia to end its unrelenting assault on fundamental freedoms, including jailing and harassing public dissidents and human rights activists, unlawful attacks on civilians in Yemen, and flouting international calls for accountability for the murder by state agents of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Saudi Arabia’s attempts to seek positive publicity through hosting the G20 would be severely undercut if it detains and forcibly returns fellow Muslims back to unbridled persecution in China,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi authorities should immediately disclose the status of the Uyghur detainees and clarify why they arrested them.”

Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist in touch with the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia, told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities detained Hemdullah Abduweli (or Aimidoula Waili in pinyin on his Chinese passport), 52, a Uyghur Muslim religious scholar, on the evening of November 20 in Mecca along with his friend Nurmemet Rozi (or Nuermaimaiti on his Chinese passport). Ayup said that Rozi managed to contact a family member to say that they are being held in Jeddah’s Bureiman prison and are “in danger.” Both men are residents of Turkey.

Abduweli arrived in Saudi Arabia in February to perform a religious pilgrimage. He had been in hiding since he gave a speech to the Uyghur community there in which he encouraged Uyghurs and Muslims to pray about conditions in Xinjiang and to “fight back the Chinese invaders…using weapons,” said another source who spoke to Abduweli.

In early November, Abduweli spoke to Middle East Eye, saying he feared that Chinese authorities had sent a request to Saudi Arabia to detain and deport him. Middle East Eye posted photos of Abduweli’s Chinese passport, Turkish residency card, and Saudi visa information.

The Uyghur activist Ayub said that he had previously documented five cases of Uyghurs forcibly deported by Saudi Arabia back to China between 2017 and 2018.

Uyghurs are Turkic-speaking Muslims, most of whom live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China’s northwest. The Chinese government has long been hostile to many expressions of Uyghur identity, and imposed wide-ranging controls – including religious restrictions – over daily life in Xinjiang. Since late 2016, the Chinese government has dramatically escalated repression in Xinjiang as part of ostensible counterterrorism efforts, subjecting the region’s 13 million Turkic Muslims to forced political indoctrination, mass surveillance, and severe movement restrictions. An estimated one million of them have been held in “political education” camps.

Much of this repression targets Uyghurs’ religious practices. Uyghurs are imprisoned and detained for studying the Quran, going on pilgrimages without state approval, wearing religious clothing, and other “abnormal” thoughts or behavior that express “excessive religious fervor.” An estimated 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang, or 65 percent of the total, have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies since 2017.

On a visit to China in February 2019, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, appeared to endorse Chinese government policies in Xinjiang. China’s Xinhua official news agency quoted Mohammed bin Salman stating, “We respect and support China's rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security...” Saudi Arabia endorsed joint letters in support of China’s policies in Xinjiang at the United Nations in 2019 and again in 2020.

China’s record of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance of Uyghurs, as well as the absence of judicial independence, raises serious concerns that if deported, Hemdullah Abduweli and Nurmemet Rozi will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Under customary international law and as a party to the Convention against Torture, Saudi Arabia is obliged to ensure that no one in its custody is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.

In recent years, there have been multiple incidents of Uyghurs being forcibly returned to China in violation of international law. In July 2017, Egypt detained 62 Uyghurs and deported at least 12 to China. In August 2015, Thailand forcibly returned 220 Uyghurs to China. In December 2012, Malaysia deported six Uyghurs to China. In all cases, Human Rights Watch has been unable to obtain any further information from Thai, Malaysian, or Chinese governments as to the deportees’ whereabouts or well-being.

“Mohammed bin Salman’s apparent endorsement of China’s persecution of the Muslim Uyghur community is bad enough, but his government should not play a direct role in it by deporting Uyghur men back to possible arbitrary detention and torture,” Stork said.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 24, 2020, 3:00 am
Click to expand Image A man checks his smartphone while waiting to board a subway in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2019.  © 2019 AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

On November 19, a draft law was submitted to Russia’s parliament that would give authorities power to block websites that have censored Russian state media content. The bill claims these websites violate Russians’ right of access to information.

According to the bill’s explanatory note, since April 2020, Russian authorities recorded at least 20 incidents in which platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube censored content from state-owned Russian media companies such as RT, RiaNovosti, and others. Earlier this month, authorities claimed Google intentionally excluded videos of a journalist with Russia’s main state television station from YouTube’s Trending page. In October, Moscow court ordered Google to lift the age restrictions the company imposed on a documentary about the 2004 school siege in Beslan, which featured violent images.

The bill would introduce a registry for “website owners” that censor “information of public importance,” if the authorities deem the censorship to be “discriminatory or based on economic and political sanctions against Russia.” The draft legislation authorizes the prosecutor general to order full or partial blocking of the listed websites if they continue to “violate” the law.

Russian authorities already have a number of tools to restrict access to online content. The 2019 “sovereign Internet” law for example, allows the government to use technology to track, filter, and reroute internet traffic, raising concerns over the arbitrary and extrajudicial blocking of legitimate content.

In recent years, Russian authorities have ordered internet services and platforms blocked for non-compliance with Russian legislation. In December 2019, fines for noncompliance with data storage regulations were increased up to six million rubles (USD$ 78,700). Last month, another draft law introducing fines for refusing to block content deemed inappropriate by Russian authorities  passed first reading in parliament.

In June 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on four cases brought against Russia, finding that blocking entire websites violates the owners’ right to impart information and the public’s right to receive it.

Global internet companies’ often opaque and inconsistent policies and practices around removing or moderating online content, deserve criticism; but totally blocking online platforms used by millions of Russians, as this bill proposes, does the opposite of protecting access to information. The Russian parliament should dismiss the draft bill and focus on ensuring existing powers of state censorship comply with the criteria of necessity, legality and proportionality.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 23, 2020, 9:16 pm
Click to expand Image Men aboard the Sea-Watch 4, a nongovernmental rescue ship, rejoice on September 1, 2020, as they learn that they have permission to disembark in Palermo, Sicily, the next day. © 2020 Thomas Lohnes/AFP via Getty Images

(Milan) – The Italian parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee should endorse certain key amendments to draft immigration legislation, Human Rights Watch said today. The amendments would abolish sanctions on rescue ships, reject the concept of “safe country of origin,” and provide a pathway to protection for people who have lost their protected status in the past two years.

“This is the chance for Italy to turn the page on a miserable period in its history,” said Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In this next chapter, Italy should not only restore rights and protections shredded by the previous government, but it should set an example of principled and fair migration policy.”

In early October 2020, the Italian government adopted a new immigration decree that significantly modified two so-called security decrees, issued in 2018 and 2019, by the previous government. The parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee is currently examining amendments that would take effect when the decree becomes a law, which could significantly improve protections and rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

The committee has already voted to expand the grounds for granting special – or complementary – protection to asylum seekers and to increase safeguards against returns to countries where their safety or rights would be at serious risk. These improvements had been advocated by Italian nongovernmental organizations and experts in networks such as the Tavolo Asilo and Grei250.

As its work continues, the committee should correct some deeply problematic aspects of the previous government’s migration and asylum policies that remained in the latest decree, Human Rights Watch said. The committee should vote in favor of amendments to:

Abolish fines on nongovernmental rescue ships. The June 2019 decree, converted into law in October 2019, gave the interior minister the authority to deny permission to enter or stay in Italian waters to any ship under suspicion of violating Italian immigration laws, including rescue ships carrying people to a safe port of disembarkation, in compliance with international law. It imposed fines of between €150,000 (US$177,500) and €1 million ($1,183,275) on shipmasters, and immediate seizure of the ship for entering Italian waters without authorization or failure to obey instructions.

The decree issued in October maintains that authority but reduces the fines to a maximum of €50,000 ($59,000). The decree exempts ships that have performed rescue operations on certain conditions, including that shipmasters have complied with “the indications of the competent authority for search and rescue at sea.” But this requirement leaves open the possibility to fine a rescue ship that refuses to follow instructions to disembark rescued people in Libya, where they risk grave human rights abuses.

The threat of fines under this provision is part of a broader policy to obstruct nongovernmental rescue organizations and risks discouraging other shipmasters from fulfilling their moral and legal obligation to respond to ships in distress at sea, Human Rights Watch said.

Repeal the list of safe countries of origin. The October 2018 decree, when converted into law in December of that year, introduced into Italian law the concept of “safe country of origin,” and the government adopted a list of 13 countries in October 2019. Asylum applications by nationals from these countries are subject to a fast-track procedure on the presumption they are not in need of international protection. While allowed under international refugee law and European Union law, the use of safe country concepts in accelerated procedures raises concerns over hasty and poor-quality decision-making, especially in complex cases, and the potential for expulsions of people who face a risk of human rights violations. In July 2015, a Canadian Federal Court ruled that Canada’s list of “safe countries of origin” was unconstitutional because it was “discriminatory on its face.”

Restore Access to Complementary Protection. Among the most important measures in the October 2020 decree is to reinstate in Italian law the residency permit on humanitarian grounds (now called “special protection”). In years past, this measure allowed many people to remain in Italy due to hardships experienced at home or on their migration journeys, or due to risks they might face upon return. Complementary protection is a term used to refer to grounds for protection that go beyond the definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The measure is not retroactive, however, and will only be available to individuals with pending asylum applications. The Constitutional Affairs Committee should amend the decree to create a system allowing people to apply for special protection if in the period from October 2018 to October 2020 their humanitarian permit expired and they were unable to renew or convert it, and those whose asylum application was rejected at first instance but who may have a claim to receive special protection.

In Italy, parliament can amend measures put into effect by government decree when these are converted into law, within 60 days of the decree’s adoption. The Constitutional Affairs Committee is examining hundreds of amendments and may forward a consolidated text to the plenary as early as November 27. Many observers expect the government to impose an accelerated procedure (“fiducia”) that precludes further debate before a vote.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 23, 2020, 5:00 pm
Click to expand Image A rental sign is posted in front of an apartment complex in Phoenix, Arizona, July 14, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

With negotiations concerning a new economic stimulus stalled, millions of renters in the United States face a grim deadline. On December 31, the national eviction moratorium expires. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the moratorium in September, limiting landlords’ ability to evict tenants who cannot afford to pay rent. But even with this protection, there have been multiple reports of renters being forced from their homes after falling behind on payments. Such tenants need rental assistance.

The Aspen Institute estimates that 30 to 40 million people are at risk of eviction due to the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The thousands of evictions that landlords file for each week hint at the crisis that awaits if protections are not extended.

While the CDC moratorium was a critical stopgap, it has serious flaws. It temporarily protects those who cannot pay rent but offers little help if a landlord refuses to renew a tenant’s lease. Moreover, landlords can still file for eviction, which itself impacts a tenant’s ability to find housing and may compel tenants to vacate their homes. Landlords who challenge a tenant’s claims of economic hardship can place a real burden on renters to produce supporting evidence. Additionally, landlords are not required to inform tenants of the moratorium, leading some tenants to vacate because they were unaware of their rights.

The moratorium also imposes costs on landlords. Institutional landlords can absorb these losses, but many small landlords, whose livelihoods depend on rental income, cannot. Some tenant groups fear this dynamic will cause a greater share of rental units to be owned by large companies, who charge higher rents and are more likely to evict.

States can enact more robust tenant protections. Yet only about 20 states have an active moratorium, down from 43 in May. While some are more protective, others replicate the CDC moratorium’s flaws.

But an eviction moratorium cannot by itself adequately protect tenants’ right to housing. Tenants struggling to make rent during the pandemic will still have to pay the full amount due under their lease once the moratorium ends. Rent debt is skyrocketing, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that at least $100 billion in rental assistance is needed to ensure low-income renters affected by the pandemic are affordably and stably housed over the next year. Such tenant assistance would also help small landlords who depend on rental income.

Many states created rental assistance programs using federal stimulus money, but convoluted eligibility requirements often hampered their effectiveness, and many programs have run through their funds.

The pandemic’s effects will persist even after the virus is contained. Strengthened eviction moratoriums can provide crucial protection for tenants. But absent additional relief, such as direct rental assistance with minimal eligibility requirements, tenants’ right to housing will remain at risk.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 23, 2020, 3:52 pm
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(Bangkok) – The Myanmar authorities should immediately end criminal proceedings and release students and other activists charged for participating in recent peaceful protests, a coalition of 10 human rights organizations said in a joint statement today. The groups also called on Myanmar’s government to lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States and reform all laws to comply with international standards for the protection of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Joint Statement on Student Protest Arrests in Myanmar, November 23, 2020 Joint Statement on Student Protest Arrests in Myanmar, November 23, 2020


Dozens of students and others are facing charges under sections 505(a) and (b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, and the National Disaster Management Law for organizing protests and sticker campaigns highlighting military abuses in Rakhine State and internet restrictions in parts of Rakhine and Chin States. Four different courts in Mandalay have already convicted two of the students and cumulatively sentenced each to seven years in prison.

“It’s shocking that students are facing long prison sentences for peacefully criticizing human rights abuses in Rakhine State,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “Neither peaceful protest nor criticism of the government is a crime, and the Myanmar authorities should stop treating them as such. The authorities should drop all charges and release all those detained for exercising their basic rights.”

The organizations signing the statement are: Access Now, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Athan - Freedom of Expression Activist Organization, Burma Human Rights Network, Civil Rights Defenders, Fortify Rights, FORUM-Asia, and Human Rights Watch.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 23, 2020, 2:00 pm