Click to expand Image A Sudanese soldier from the Rapid Support Forces or RSF stands on his vehicle during a military-backed tribe's rally in the East Nile province, Sudan on June 22th, 2019. © 2019 Hussein Malla/AP Photo

Sudan’s transitional government announced plans last week to create a new joint security force tasked with ensuring the rule of law and fighting security threats across the country. But the joint force is riddled with problems, not least of which is that some constituent forces have poor rights records.

The decision, signed by the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemedti”), who also serves as vice chairperson of the transitional sovereign council, establishes the composition of the force to include Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF), the police, the General Intelligence Service (GIS), and several rebel groups that signed a peace agreement.

The announcement, which comes amidst growing unrest across much of the country and a hard-hitting economic crisis, triggered well-founded concerns among Sudanese rights activists.

The formation of this nationwide joint force with a broad mandate to fight security threats has no legal basis neither under Sudan’s constitutional charter nor the October 2020 Juba peace agreement, which brought an end to hostilities between the government and several rebel groups.

Moreover, Sudan has not shown any sign of moving forward with much needed security sector reform. Deploying forces with poor rights records, which are neither trained nor equipped to conduct rule of law operations, creates an environment ripe for abuse, as we have already seen. On May 11, for example, SAF forces violently dispersed protesters in Khartoum, killing two and injuring others. In October last year, RSF forces killed five protesters in Kassala, eastern Sudan. The RSF also unlawfully detained scores of civilians in Khartoum last year, including one who was tortured to death by RSF elements.

Justifying a rights crackdown in the name of imposing the rule of law comes from the old authoritarian textbook that Sudanese know all too well, and which they have courageously protested against. Before moving forward with the deployment of a joint force, every proposed member of the force should be vetted, and those facing allegations of responsibility for serious human rights violations should be suspended, awaiting judicial investigation and determination of their cases. Rule of law operations should be conducted by well-trained and accountable law enforcement, and any plans to tackle security threats should integrate human rights principles, not embolden rights abusers.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 21, 2021, 4:03 pm
Click to expand Image Ebrahim Raeesi, a candidate in the 2017 presidential elections, addresses his supporters during a campaign rally at Imam Khomeini Mosque in the capital, Tehran, on May 16, 2017.  © 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – The victory of Ebrahim Raeesi, Iran’s judiciary chief, on June 19, 2021, in a presidential election that was neither free nor fair raises serious concerns about human rights and accountability in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

Raeesi has had a long career in the country’s judiciary and served on a four-member committee that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. The Interior Ministry announced that he won the presidency on June 19 with 62% percent of the votes.

“Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raeesi to become president through repression and an unfair election,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “During his judicial career, Raeesi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.” 

In the period before the election, the Guardian Council, a body of 12 male religious jurists and legal experts tasked with vetting elections, disqualified a large number of candidates without providing a reason, including several prominent government officials. Ali Larijani, the former speaker of parliament, and Eshaq Jahangiri, the current first vice president, were among them.

On May 20 Mehdi Mahmoudian, a human rights activist and journalist, reported that the authorities had summoned two journalists who criticized Raeesi on their Twitter accounts.

Raeesi has had a career for over three decades in the judiciary, which has acted as a cornerstone of repression in Iran. During the summer of 1988, the Iranian government summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails. The majority were serving prison sentences for their political activities after unfair trials in revolutionary courts.

The government has never acknowledged these executions or provided any information about how many were killed. But in August 2016, the family of the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the former deputy supreme leader, published an audio file in which he harshly criticized the executions in a conversation with the committee that included Raeesi, calling it “the biggest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us.”

The 1988 mass executions amounted to crimes against humanity and are among the most odious crimes in international law, Human Rights Watch said. Those responsible should be investigated and prosecuted for these crimes.

As the head of the judiciary since March 2019, Raeesi was in charge of an institution responsible for many of the long-established patterns of rights violations in Iran, including use of torture to obtain coerced confessions, prosecution of peaceful dissidents in grossly unfair trials, and lack of respect for due process rights.

Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions in the world, second only to China, including against child offenders and for crimes that do not meet the international standard of most serious crimes. In 2020, the judiciary executed Rouhollah Zam, a prominent dissident and journalist who had traveled to Iraq and was most likely detained there and transferred to Iran, after convicting him on vague national security charges. The government also executed Navid Afkari, a protester who was convicted of murder despite serious allegations that he was tortured to confess.

Over the past three years, the authorities have cracked down with increasing violence on protests that stemmed from a deterioration in economic conditions and transformed into a broader expression of popular discontent with the government’s repression and perceived corruption. In November 2019 the authorities brutally repressed widespread protests across the country, resulting in at least 300 deaths, according to Amnesty International, and thousands of arrests.

Judicial authorities have failed to hold anyone accountable for security forces’ use of excessive and unlawful lethal force, despite overwhelming evidence. Instead, they have proceeded to sentence protestors in unfair trials.

“The international community has a critically important responsibility toward the Iranian people, who have faced brutal repression and international sanctions over the past years,” Page said. “Leaders should come together to increase accountably, while ensuring that engagement breaks the isolation of Iranian civil society and local actors, who are pushing for greater respect for human rights on the ground.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2021, 2:15 pm
Click to expand Image Immigrant families separated by immigration status, lack of visas, or deportations, are briefly reunited in the dry Rio Grande riverbed on the U.S.-Mexico border on May 12, 2018, an annual one day event organized by the Border Network for Human Rights, called Hugs Not Walls. © 2018 Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images

One line of families winds down from the US city of El Paso, Texas, and the other line meanders from Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, Tamaulipas. They meet on the dry riverbed of the Rio Grande, a concrete culvert that marks the border between the United States and Mexico. These are family members separated by US immigration policies, and when they reach the bottom, they finally have a moment in which they can see, touch, and hug one another.

This is the scene of the eighth annual Hugs Not Walls event, which is happening today and organized by the Border Network for Human Rights. The tearjerker Netflix documentary “A Three Minute Hug” records families meeting during the event in 2018. It’s an excellent way to understand the emotional impact of the experience for participants.

I’m joining the Border Network for Human Rights at this year’s event. Human Rights Watch’s work over decades on the US immigration system has documented its devastating impact on the rights to home and family. Much of this harm flows from linking the immigration system to the criminal legal system, resulting in a disproportionate impact on people of color including Black, Latinx, and Southeast Asian communities. For decades the United States immigration system has deported hundreds of thousands of individuals, permanently separating them from their loved ones and destabilizing communities. Families may also be separated because the US has so far failed to provide opportunities for millions of people who have built their lives in the United States, to secure permanent legal status, complicating any chance they might have to visit family abroad.

This year, the Hugs not Walls event also commemorates Juneteenth, now a US national holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. This convergence highlights an urgent need for the United States to write racism out of its cruel and abusive immigration laws, restoring fundamental principles of due process and compassion that keep families together and help communities thrive.

The transformation this system needs would allow these families, meeting at the border, the opportunity to turn their three-minute hugs in the middle of dry riverbed into real opportunities to reunite and stay with their loved ones.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 19, 2021, 10:00 am
Click to expand Image  A volunteer tends to an injured demonstrator in front of a police armored personnel carrier (APC) in Rab’a Square in Cairo, Egypt on August 14, 2013. That day, Egyptian police and army forces opened fire on tens of thousands of demonstrators who had been staging an open-ended sit-in calling for the re-instatement of former president Mohamed Morsy, and violently dispersed the demonstration, killing at least 817 people.  © 2013 Associated Press

(Beirut) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should immediately commute the death sentences for 12 protestors, including prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders who had been convicted in a grossly unfair mass trial for participation in the 2013 Rab’a sit-in that ended with security forces killing at least 817 protestors, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 14, 2021, the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appellate court, upheld the death sentences for the 12 as well as long prison sentences for hundreds of other Rab’a case defendants. Egypt’s Criminal Procedure Code gives the president 14 days following the court ruling to pardon the defendants or commute the death sentences.

The death sentences were among 75 handed down by a Cairo terrorism court in September 2018 following a mass trial of 739 defendants that began in December 2015. The Cassation Court commuted 31 death sentences to life imprisonment (the others had been sentenced in absentia). Most of the defendants had been arrested in the dispersal of the Rab’a sit-in. Authorities should release anyone prosecuted solely for participating in largely peaceful protests and retry defendants charged with violent offenses before a court meeting international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said. President al-Sisi should direct his government to halt Egypt’s escalating use of the death penalty.

To date there has been no investigation of those responsible for carrying out the mass killings by security forces at Rab’a.

“The Rab’a trial was a mockery of justice, so it is outrageous that the highest court has upheld these 12 death sentences,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “President Sisi should seize this moment to void their execution and put an end to Egypt’s profligate use of the death penalty.”

Those whose death sentences the Cassation Court upheld include senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohamed al-Beltagy, 58, Osama Yassine, 56, Ahmed Arif, 40, Abdelrahman al-Barr, 58, and a prominent Brotherhood supporter and Islamic preacher, Safwat Hegazi, 56. Al-Beltagy was a member of the 2012 parliament, and Yassine was a minister in the government of former President Mohamed Morsy, a senior Brotherhood leader who died in detention in 2019. The 12 men whose death sentences were confirmed could face execution imminently if President al-Sisi does not act.

The charges against the defendants in the mass trial ranged from involvement in violent protests to the murder and attempted murder of several police officers, soldiers, and members of the public during the six-week sit-in in July through August 2013.

The Cassation Court also upheld the prison sentences for hundreds of other Rab’a case defendants, including life sentences for the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, and lawyer Essam Soltan, deputy leader of the moderate al-Wasat Party, and a 10-year prison term for Osama Morsy, the late president's son.  

The full court decision is yet to be released. The mass trial before the terrorism court was chaotic and marred with abuses at all stages. The trial was postponed several times for years because no courtroom could accommodate all the defendants. Like other mass trials, this one failed to establish individual criminal responsibility and was heavily based on unsubstantiated allegations by National Security Agency officers. Like in dozens of terrorism cases in recent years, the hearings took place inside an Interior Ministry facility. Defendants were often jammed inside a courtroom cell with sound-proof barriers that make it hard for observers to see or hear them and prevented them from properly interacting with judges. Many defendants were held in the notorious Scorpion Prison, where inmates are deprived for months or years at a time from seeing or communicating with their lawyers and family members, severely undermining the right to defense.

A relative of Mohamed al-Beltagy told Human Rights Watch that he has not received a single visit from his family or lawyers since March 2017. On August 13, 2020, Essam el-Erian, another senior Muslim Brotherhood leader in the case, died in Scorpion Prison in suspicious circumstances after purportedly suffering a heart attack. El-Erian, 66, had complained to judges in court sessions in 2017 and 2018 about prison conditions and said the Interior Ministry had prevented him from receiving treatment after he contracted hepatitis C in prison. Security forces forced his family to bury him almost secretly.

At least 22 of those handed down prison terms were children at time of arrest and were prosecuted alongside adults, in violation of international law.

The Egyptian army overthrew and arrested former President Morsy on June 30, 2013, on the heels of mass anti-Brotherhood protests. Morsy supporters then staged large protests throughout Egypt and gathered in two main squares in Cairo, Rab’a and al-Nahda. Human Rights Watch documented six incidents in which security forces unlawfully fired on masses of largely peaceful protestors between July 3 and August 16, 2013, killing at least 1,185 people. Human Rights Watch said these mass killings likely constituted crimes against humanity and required an international investigation.

Several official statements and reports acknowledged the police used excessive force in the dispersal. The prime minister who supervised the dispersal, Hazem al-Beblawy, said in response to the 2014 Human Rights Watch report that “anyone who committed a mistake … should be investigated.” No such investigations have taken place in the eight years since the massacre.

On March 6, 2014, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) released a report on the Rab’a dispersal saying that some protestors had been armed but that there was a “disproportionate response” and “excessive use of force by security forces” and security forces failed to maintain a safe exit for protestors to leave or to provide medical aid for the wounded.

Earlier, in December 2013, interim President Adly Mansour established a fact-finding committee to collect “information and evidence” on the events that accompanied the June 30 protests. The committee released an executive summary in November 2014 in which it largely blamed protest leaders for the casualties in Rab’a but admitted that security forces failed to target only people who were armed. Immediately following the dispersal, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said that only 14 guns were seized among the protestors. The full report is yet to be made public.

Both the committee and the NCHR demanded that Rab’a victims who “did not participate in violence” be compensated. The NCHR also called for an independent judicial investigation.

In July 2018, al-Sisi approved Law No.161 of 2018 on the “treatment of the armed forces’ senior commanders,” which grants these officers “immunity” from prosecution or questioning for any event between July 3, 2013, and January 2016, unless the Supreme Council of Armed Forces gives permission.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has become among the top three countries in numbers of executions and death sentences globally, according to Amnesty International.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. In 2017, Human Rights Watch called on President al-Sisi to issue a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in view of the sharp rise in the number of death sentences. According to Amnesty International, Egyptian authorities have executed at least 51 men and women in the first half of 2021. In October 2020, Human Rights Watch documented the execution of 49 men and women by Egyptian authorities in just 10 days.

“Egypt should immediately halt any further executions, particularly of those convicted in grossly unfair trials,” Stork said. “To move forward, Egypt needs to address the crimes committed by security forces, including Rab’a and the mass killings of protestors.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2021, 5:00 pm
Click to expand Image Demonstrators mark World Refugee Day, June 20, 2020, on the streets of Athens. © 2020 Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via AP Photo

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, but on World Refugee Day, as we laud the 148 countries that have acceded to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol, we look with alarm at a belt of countries stretching from Libya through most of the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia that have yet to sign on, and at state parties that continue to flout its principles.

Disappointingly many countries not party to the Convention also claim to not be bound by its principles that are customary international law. The most fundamental is nonrefoulement which bars the return of refugees to places where they would face the threat of persecution. This year alone, we have seen non-signatories like Thailand push back dissidents fleeing the military junta in Myanmar. Jordan deported Yemeni refugees who had registered with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. And after detaining them in horrendous conditions, Saudi Arabia sent home Ethiopians, including Tigrayans, without any assessment of possible asylum claims.

But even being a party to the Convention has unfortunately not guaranteed respect for the principle of nonrefoulement. 

Consider Greece, which ratified the Convention in 1960. For more than a decade, Human Rights Watch has documented the unlawful return, including through violent pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek security forces and unidentified armed men who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.

In Tanzania, Human Rights Watch has documented refoulement of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers since 2017. Between October 2019 and August 2020, Tanzanian police and intelligence services forcibly disappeared, tortured, and arbitrarily detained at least 11 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers, forcibly returning eight of them to Burundi in August. They are now on trial on baseless charges. UNHCR also recently reported that Tanzania forcibly returned more than 9,600 asylum seekers to Mozambique since January 2021.

And in the United States, party to the Refugee Protocol, the Biden administration has maintained the Trump administration’s use of the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to expel asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border without giving them an opportunity to state or pursue refugee claims. 

The 70th anniversary should be an occasion to pressure governments to ratify the Refugee Convention. And on World Refugee Day especially, countries that are already party to the Convention should reaffirm their commitment to uphold the foundation of international refugee law and not send refugees back to potential harm.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2021, 2:31 pm
Click to expand Image Switzerland's national flag flies over the entrance of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (Bundesstrafgericht) in Bellinzona, Switzerland March 5, 2020. © REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Geneva) – The conviction of a former Liberian rebel leader by a Swiss court for war crimes during Liberia’s first civil war is a landmark step for Liberian victims and Switzerland’s efforts to hold those responsible for grave crimes to account, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 18, 2021, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in the city of Bellinzona, Switzerland, delivered its judgment in the trial of Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy armed group, known as ULIMO. Kosiah is the first person to be tried for war crimes in a non-military criminal court in Switzerland and is the first Liberian to be tried and convicted for war crimes committed during the first Liberian civil war, from 1989 to 1996.

“More than 20 years after the violations were committed, victims played a vital role in securing the first conviction for war crimes during Liberia’s civil war,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The verdict is a breakthrough for Liberian victims and the Swiss justice system in cracking the wall of impunity.”

Kosiah’s trial in Switzerland was possible because the country’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law, allowing for the prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims.

The authorities arrested Kosiah on November 10, 2014, in Switzerland, where he had been living since 1999, for his alleged role in war crimes committed between 1993 and 1995 in Lofa County, northwest Liberia. The arrest followed criminal complaints against him by seven Liberian victims who became formal parties to the proceeding, called “private plaintiffs.”

After a nearly five-year investigation, the Swiss attorney general’s office filed an indictment against Kosiah in March 2019. Swiss prosecutors accused him of various crimes, including ordering the murder and cruel treatment of civilians, rape, and pillage.

Kosiah’s trial was originally scheduled to begin in April 2020 but was postponed because the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for the private plaintiffs and witnesses to travel from Liberia for the proceeding. The trial was ultimately held in two phases, the first from December 3 to 10, 2020, and the second from February 15 to March 5, 2021.

One challenge was the limited accessibility to the trial. The proceedings were not streamed on video, and access to the second phase was limited to accredited media due to Covid-19 restrictions. Human Rights Watch applied to observe the proceedings in February, but the court denied the request, on the basis that the organization was not a party or representative of a party to the proceeding, or a member of the accredited media.

Kosiah has been in Swiss custody since his arrest in 2014. Human Rights Watch is disappointed the Swiss authorities have not made publically available any detailed information justifying his lengthy pretrial detention. Given the government’s obligations to ensure a speedy trial and use pretrial detention as a last resort, providing clarity on the basis for the lengthy pretrial detention would have demonstrated a commitment to its international human rights obligations and procedural fairness. Time spent in pretrial detention should be taken into account in determining how long Kosiah will serve a custodial sentence, as provided for under Swiss law. 

During Liberia’s armed conflicts from 1989-96 and 1999-2003, Liberians suffered widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, mutilation and torture, and use of child combatants.

Liberia has not prosecuted anyone for the grave crimes committed during its two armed conflicts and has yet to establish a war crimes court, which the country’s truth and reconciliation commission recommended in 2009. Judicial authorities in the United States, Belgium, France, Finland, and the United Kingdom have pursued criminal cases related to Liberia in recent years, often spurred by civil society efforts.

“Universal jurisdiction cases can be a vital – albeit narrow – route to justice for victims who have nowhere else to turn,” Jarrah said. “Switzerland should build on the Kosiah trial and pursue similar cases, but Liberian authorities bear the primary responsibility to fill the massive accountability gap for brutal crimes committed during the country’s civil wars.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2021, 12:00 pm
Click to expand Image CDC Cameroon Associate Director for Program and Science, Dr. Clement Ndongmo, observes Covid-19 testing procedures for passengers arriving at Nsimalen International Airport in Yaoundé.  © 2020 CDC Global, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/, via Flickr

(Nairobi) – The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Executive Board should ensure that a three-year loan sought by Cameroon is used to meet its human rights obligations and not lost to corruption, Human Rights Watch said today. It should require the government to make its spending fully transparent, conduct a comprehensive independent audit of its Covid-19 spending to date, and hold anyone responsible for corruption accountable.

“The IMF Board is voting on its third loan to Cameroon since the start of the pandemic in the midst of a Covid-19-related corruption scandal and violent crisis roiling the country’s English-speaking regions with a devastating impact on people’s right to health,” said Sarah Saadoun, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “When badly-needed aid is being squandered or stolen, it would be irresponsible for the IMF to approve another loan without safeguards to ensure that the money goes where it is intended.”

On May 27, 2021, the IMF announced that it had reached a staff agreement for the loan “to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic,” among other objectives. The IMF did not specify the amount or detail any concrete measures to address corruption other than saying that “effective enforcement of the anti-corruption legal framework will also be critical.”

The IMF previously disbursed two emergency loans totaling US$382 million to Cameroon in response to the pandemic. Although the government made specific commitments to the IMF to use these funds transparently and accountably, its Covid-19 spending has been marred by secrecy and credible allegations of widespread mismanagement and corruption.

On May 19, Cameroonian media published a summary of an audit by a Supreme Court investigative body, the Chambres des Comptes. The audit detailed findings of large-scale corruption and mismanagement involving 180 billion CFA ($333 million) spent in response to Covid-19 up to December 31, 2020. It recommended “initiating 10 judicial cases regarding findings that likely violate criminal law.”

Citing the findings, as well as major corruption scandals, including one linked to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) project that took place during a past IMF loan program and for which no one was held accountable, 20 prominent Cameroonian women urged the IMF Board not to approve any additional funding until the government accounted for prior IMF loans and held those complicit in corruption accountable.

The audit found “numerous abuses” in the use of funds. For example, it found that a single company, Mediline Medical Cameroon, was awarded a “quasi-monopoly” on government contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE), Covid-19 tests, and other medical material, despite not being active in the country before the pandemic.

Local media reports referred to it as a subsidiary of South Korea-based Mediline Medical Korea, but that company told Human Rights Watch it “has no subsidiary company or investment companies in/outside of the country.” A June 1 news release from Mediline Medical Cameroon in response to the audit report was signed by Sangki Yi, as the board chairman. Human Rights Watch was unable to find any contact information for him or his company. A Cameroon government document identified Sunguk Yoon as the company’s sole beneficial – or actual – owner. Human Rights Watch wrote him on LinkedIn, the only contact information we were able to find, but received no response.

The audit found that Mediline Medical Cameroon overcharged for its products, delivered defective or the wrong material, and that its orders lacked documentation to enable tracking and delivery confirmation. The authorities were unable to account for products they had apparently received, including 610,000 Covid-19 tests. The audit also found that the government had bought 16 ambulances from Mediline Medical Cameroon and another company for 880 million CFA ($1.6 million), yet none had been delivered by December 31.

Human Rights Watch spoke with medical and administrative staff in hospitals across the country, including in the two English-speaking regions where violence has severely disrupted access to health care, who said they received little or no additional funds or equipment during the period covered by the audit to help them respond to the virus.

One doctor said his hospital initially only received 12 masks, 20 boxes of gloves, and four full body gowns for almost 50 employees and that a nurse from a nearby hospital died from Covid-19 in June 2020. It was not until early August that the 10 health facilities in his district received a combined 10 million FCA (around $17,000), which enabled his hospital to buy some PPE. However, when Human Rights Watch spoke with him in September, he said the hospital still lacked sufficient protective gear for most staff and had no ambulance.

Mediline Medical Cameroon’s June 1 statement dismissed these allegations as part of a “disinformation campaign.” It said that as of January, the company had delivered 1.9 million out of the 3 million tests the government bought, for which it has been paid 24.5 billion CFA ($45 million) and is still owed 8.5 billion CFA ($15 million).

It said that the prices “conform to regulations,” although the amounts it cited effectively confirm the audit findings that the government paid 17,500 CFA ($32) per test, significantly more than alternative options. It also said it was still processing what it said was the purchase of 17 ambulances for 8.5 billion CFA (around $15 million), citing challenges posed by the pandemic.

The audit found that the government requisitioned 32 hotels for 1,028 people who needed to be quarantined but has not repaid about 200 million CFA ($370,000) in expenses incurred by the hotels, deepening their financial distress from the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch spoke with several people who worked at these hotels between November and December who said their pay had been reduced in part because the government hadn’t fully paid these bills. An events manager at a hotel in Douala said she had to ask her brother if her two children could stay with him because her salary had been cut and she could no longer afford to provide for them. Human Rights Watch contacted the Health Ministry about the issue in February but received no reply.

These irregularities may have been identified and addressed had the government kept its commitment to the IMF regarding timely publication of how it spent funds. Nonetheless, the IMF still approved a second emergency loan in October, and now appears poised to approve a third, larger program, without addressing this fundamental lack of transparency despite serious allegations of mismanagement and corruption.

The IMF required the government to publish some information about the contracts it awarded, including the names of all of the companies’ actual owners prior to awarding the second loan. However, that disclosure is not accessible from any government website, it has not been updated since the approval of that loan, and the quality of information is poor. For example, that document lists Sunguk Yoon as the beneficial owner of Mediline Medical Cameroon, even though media reports refer to him as a project coordinator.

Cameroonian authorities have also not yet commissioned or published an independent audit of Covid-19 spending, despite promising the IMF to do so by the December 31 end of the fiscal year. In February, media reported that the Financial Ministry had called for tenders for an independent audit and in March the IMF told Human Rights Watch that the government had shared with its staff the terms of reference for an independent audit, but it is unclear whether a firm has been hired.

The Chambre des Comptes audit is important, though it only examines spending by two of the 10 ministries that received Covid-19 funds and the government did not disclose its findings, which journalists published on social media. It is no substitute for a full independent audit.

Between March 29 and April 8, the secretary general of the presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, sent a series of letters on behalf of President Paul Biya to various ministries regarding investigating and restructuring Covid-19 spending. This was apparently due to pressure stemming from the government’s loan negotiations with the IMF. One letter directed the Justice Ministry to initiate proceedings against those identified in the Chambre des Comptes’ audit. A separate May 28 statement referred to the audit and said that judicial inquiries are ongoing before a special criminal tribunal.

Though investigations are useful, recent events hint at the serious difficulties with holding corrupt Cameroonian officials accountable. Between June 7 and 9, multiple government offices, including for the Tax Administration and the National Business Association, were burglarized, despite being housed in heavily guarded buildings. Media reports, citing a confidential source, said “tons of documents” were stolen, possibly complicating the justice ministry’s investigations. On June 15, police announced the arrest of someone in connection with the Tax Office break-in and released a video of the suspect, who claimed to have acted alone.

“The IMF’s attention to corruption has spurred Cameroonian officials to take small steps on transparency and accountability,” Saadoun said. “But faced with evidence of widespread mismanagement and corruption, those efforts are insufficient, and the IMF should insist on much more.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2021, 4:01 am
Click to expand Image European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

(Brussels) – European Union affairs ministers should put the governments of Hungary and Poland on notice that there is no place for attacks on the rule of law in the EU and step up scrutiny of their human rights-abusive policies, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said today.

Ministers from EU member states meeting in the General Affairs Council session on June 22, 2021 will discuss the situations in Poland and Hungary under the Article 7 procedure. Article 7 is the mechanism provided for in the EU treaty to hold accountable governments whose actions threaten the bloc’s rule of law, human rights, and democratic principles.

“The actions by Poland and Hungary show that leaving rule-of-law breaches unchecked undermines democratic institutions and eventually affects the human rights and lives of everyone in those countries,” said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“The June 22 hearings are a good start, but much more is needed to prove member states’ resolve to protect EU’s democratic values and reaffirm, loud and clear, that there is no room in the EU for those who disown them,” said Elena Crespi, Western Europe Programme Director at FIDH.

Resuming hearings on the situations in Hungary and Poland under Article 7 is a strong signal from the Council that violations of EU principles will not go unnoticed within the Union, the organizations said. But EU ministers have a responsibility to make up for the time lost and show readiness to take further action as the situations in both countries continue to deteriorate.

The European Commission invoked Article 7 in December 2017 for the first time since its creation in response to the dramatic erosion of judicial independence in Poland by the Law and Justice (PiS) Party government. But the EU Council, consisting of the member states, has not held a formal hearing regarding the situation since September 2018.

The European Parliament triggered Article 7 in September 2018 for Hungary because of the repeated deliberate attacks on democratic institutions and human rights by the Fidesz-led government, but the Council has not convened a hearing on the matter since December 2019. EU officials contended that discussions related to Article 7 could not take place during the Covid-19 pandemic, allegedly because EU ministers could not meet in person during this period.

While EU action has stalled, Poland’s government has continued to strengthen its grip on the judiciary. Many judges and prosecutors have faced arbitrary disciplinary proceedings for speaking up against problematic judicial reforms. The government has used a politically compromised Constitutional Tribunal to bypass parliamentary objections to its efforts to undermine independent institutions and erode rights across the board. The concerns over the functioning of the Tribunal include, in particular, mishandling of cases by its president and unlawful change in the composition of the already designated hearing benches.

In October 2020, at the behest of the Polish government, the Constitutional Tribunal severely undermined access to sexual and reproductive rights for women in Poland by extending the existing ban on abortion to include cases of “severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life”. In April, the government used the same tribunal to discontinue the mandate of the country’s human rights Ombudsman, despite the delays in the appointment of a successor. The government is also using the Constitutional Tribunal to seek decisions on the validity of the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and to try to undermine the binding nature of decisions by the EU Court of Justice on Polish law.

In Hungary, the government used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to intensify its attacks on the rule of law and public institutions, increase executive power, and limit human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, and peaceful assembly. Hungary finally abided by the June 2020 EU Court decision by repealing a 2017 law forcing civil society organizations receiving over 20,000 EUR per year in foreign funds to register as foreign-funded. But at the same time the government introduced a new bill requiring the national State Audit Office to conduct annual financial inspections of civil society organizations that report more than around 55,000 EUR, with the risk that it could create a new method to demonize and obstruct the work of watchdog groups. The draft bill leaves untouched the controversial 2018 law criminalizing groups giving assistance to asylum seekers. 

In July 2020, the editor-in-chief of Hungary’s largest online independent daily, Index.hu, was fired as a result of a financial takeover of the company controlling its revenues by a person with close links to the country’s ruling party. In September, the Media Council, a broadcast regulator tied to the executive after controversial changes passed early in the decade, revoked the frequency for the independent Budapest radio station Klubradio, forcing it off the air. On June 9, the European Commission opened a new legal proceeding against Hungary on the basis that the decision to take Klubradio off the air was discriminatory and non-transparent.

Civil society groups in Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere in the EU have criticized the European Council and European Commission for failing to uphold the bloc’s founding values of respect for human rights and the rule of law in countries that breach them.

In December, the EU established a new mechanism conditioning EU funding upon respect for the rule of law, but both the European Commission and the Council have succumbed to Hungary and Poland’s blackmailing and announced they would not start enforcing the measure until autumn. On June 10, the European Parliament took the European Commission to Court if it further delays the implementation of the mechanism.

European ministers should continue to convene regular hearings on the situations in Poland and Hungary and take all steps available under Article 7 to hold both governments to account for violating the EU’s core values. These should include adopting specific rule-of-law recommendations that Poland and Hungary’s governments should carry out by a set deadline and, absent any concrete steps toward compliance, work toward the required four-fifth vote to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the values protected by the EU treaty. Such a determination would open up the possibility of sanctions that the Council could adopt, by unanimity, to react to this breach.

“After years of foot-dragging, it’s important for EU states to finally come together to scrutinize the situation in Poland and Hungary,” said Eve Geddie, Head of European Institutions Office at Amnesty International.

“EU states have an obligation to act together to halt the hollowing out of public institutions and attacks on the rule of law in Poland, Hungary and any other member state that threatens core European values,” said Natacha Kazatchkine, Head of internal EU policy at Open Society European Policy Institute.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 18, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow speaks at a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Washington, D.C. following the Fulton decision. © 2021 Kevin Wolf/AP Images for The Human Rights Campaign

In a highly-anticipated ruling today, the US Supreme Court sidestepped an apparent clash between religious freedom and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Although the court refrained from granting a sweeping license to discriminate, the case illustrates why the US needs robust anti-discrimination protections for taxpayer-funded services.

The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, was brought by a Catholic foster care agency claiming that an anti-discrimination provision in the city’s contract with foster care providers violated its religious freedom.

The court affirmed that the interest in treating LGBT parents and children equally “is a weighty one,” but said the city hadn’t explained why some agencies could theoretically receive an exemption under the contract, but the Catholic group would not receive one.

The narrow ruling does not give religious entities a sweeping right to violate nondiscrimination laws. Nonetheless, the lawsuit is part of a worrying pattern where litigants assert the freedom of religion to deny other people their rights – in this case, the right to access taxpayer-funded services without discrimination.

These cases threaten to strike the wrong balance between equality and religious freedom. As Human Rights Watch has documented, sweeping religious exemptions inflict real harm on LGBT people and others in the United States. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty ratified by the US, draws a distinction between the freedom of belief, which is absolute, and the freedom to exercise religion, which can be limited when it infringes on the rights and freedoms of others.

The UN special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief has similarly noted that when states advance the right to manifest one’s faith, they must ensure “this does not have the effect of impairing the enjoyment of the rights to equality and non-discrimination of any member of society.”

Governments have a human rights obligation to ensure their services are available to all qualified applicants without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now lawmakers should redouble efforts to enact the Equality Act, which would ensure that child welfare agencies that receive federal funding do not discriminate against LGBT parents, and to ensure that LGBT people are treated equally in adoption and foster care services across the United States.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 17, 2021, 10:05 pm
Click to expand Image (Photo provided by the North Korean government) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Workers' Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, June 15, 2021.  © 2021 Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Kim Jong Un made an extraordinary admission this week about North Korea’s food crisis, warning the situation is “getting tense,” in part as a result of damage from typhoons and floods last year.

Kim’s surprising admission follows his call in April to “wage another more difficult ‘Arduous March,’” a reference to the country’s massive famine of the 1990s. Given the rarity of any negative reporting in North Korean media, these acknowledgments may signal how extremely grave the country’s food situation is.

Media reports, citing sources in North Korea, indicate the country’s elites, already prioritized by the government, are suffering food insecurity, and that there are reports of soldiers going hungry and some units sending more financially secure soldiers home to bring back food for their units. Ordinary Pyongyang residents reportedly stopped receiving government rations in mid-April, as major price hikes have been seen for fuel and foods, even in Pyongyang where the central government prioritizes price stability and product availability.

Despite the worrying situation, Kim suggested borders will remain shut, keeping essential imports of food and supplies from entering the country, stating the state will maintain its “perfect anti-epidemic state under the present condition.”

North Korea relies heavily on (official and unofficial) imports and aid from China to fill gaps that local food production can’t cover, and to supply other basic necessities. All of these signs suggest North Korean may be facing an extremely bleak future, especially for those in at-risk groups, like orphans, the homeless, older people, children, or detainees and prisoners.

The added concern is that Kim may be attempting to continue taking advantage of the Covid-19 restrictions to increase his already firm grip on power by recreating the situation that existed decades ago, when all North Korean citizens were entirely dependent on the government for food and supplies. The world should take notice, offer food assistance, and remind Kim that refusing citizens access to humanitarian assistance and allowing massive food shortages are exactly the steps that led to mass famines in the 1990s. Those policies were so serious that a later United Nations commission of inquiry determined the government had committed crimes against humanity.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 17, 2021, 5:07 pm
Click to expand Image People who were detained by police on suspicion of promoting an LGBT agenda at an unlawful assembly arrive at a court for a bail hearing in Ho, Volta Region, Ghana on June 4, 2021.  © 2021 REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

(Johannesburg) – Ghana’s attorney general should drop charges against 21 human rights defenders who face ongoing judicial harassment after attending a paralegal training session, Human Rights Watch said today. The activists were charged with “unlawful assembly” for attending a meeting on how to document and report human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

On June 11, 2021, the High Court released the activists on bail after 22 days in detention, raising hopes that the authorities would abandon abusive efforts to prosecute them. But at a hearing on June 16, Circuit Court Judge Felix Datsomor granted the state prosecutor a postponement on the basis that the docket was with the attorney general for further advice and instruction.

“The unlawful arrest and detention of human rights defenders simply for attending a training session on human rights is a stain on Ghana’s reputation,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecutor should immediately abandon this appalling effort to punish activists for learning about human rights.”

Police arrested the 16 women and 5 men on May 20 at a hotel where they were attending a paralegal training session by Rightify Ghana, a human rights organization. Police justified the arrest on the grounds that the training session was promoting homosexuality and that the gathering was an unlawful assembly. Section 201 of the Ghana Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2003 (Act 646) defines an unlawful assembly as the gathering of three or more people with the intent to commit an offense, clearly not the case in this instance, Human Rights Watch said.

The Circuit Court and High Court denied three bail applications before the High Court finally granted bail. Danny Bediako, executive director of Rightify Ghana, told Human Rights Watch that the repeated bail refusals and prolonged detention may be a tactic “to punish and instill fear among LGBT+ individuals and human rights defenders” and as a “political tactic to legitimize homophobic violence and support conservative members of parliament that are calling for further criminalization of same sex conduct.”

The arrests are the latest attack on LGBT rights organizing in Ghana. In March, police raided a community center for LGBT+ people following mounting pressure by religious and traditional groups against the center, forcing it to close its doors.

Human Rights Watch has documented the human rights impact of section 104(1)(b) of Ghana’s penal code, which prohibits and punishes “unnatural carnal knowledge,” and the authorities’ failure to actively address violence and discrimination against LGBT people. While few, if any prosecutions, have been carried out under this provision, Human Rights Watch found that the criminalization of adult consensual same-sex conduct contributes to a climate in which violence and discrimination against LGBT people are commonplace. Section 104(1)(b), commonly referred to as the anti-gay law, is seen as tacit government approval of discrimination, and even violence, on the basis of real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity.

Several opinion leaders, including government officials and members of parliament, have spoken out against gay rights, contributing to a threatening atmosphere for LGBT people. In February 2018, then-speaker of parliament Mike Ocquaye reiterated his position that the house will not be coerced to pass any legislation that endorses gay rights, and had warned in July 2017 “that leaders in countries like Ghana would not countenance the aggressive push by external forces to accept acts such as homosexuality, bestiality among others.”

On March 8, the Ghanaian Times reported that six members of parliament had “hinted of jointly sponsoring a bi-partisan Private Members Bill… to proscribe and criminalise the advocacy and practice of homosexuality in the country.”

Such legislation would be inconsistent with the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression, protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which Ghana has ratified and is bound to uphold. Ghana’s Constitution also expressly protects these freedoms.

In September 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which interprets the ICCPR, adopted General Comment No. 37 on Article 21, the right of peaceful assembly urging countries to ensure that “laws and their interpretation and application do not result in discrimination in the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly for instance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Any restrictions on peaceful assemblies “may not be imposed because of opposition to expressions of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2014 adopted Resolution 275, “Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” (ACHPR/Res.275(LV)2014), condemning “violence and other human rights violations, including arbitrary imprisonment” on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity and calling on countries to “ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including the rights of sexual minorities.”

The Commission’s Resolution 376 on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa says that governments should adopt domestic legislation to protect human rights defenders working on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The African Commission’s Guidelines for Policing Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa also says that countries should train all law enforcement officials on the safety and protection of groups that may face limitations on their right to freedom of assembly, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Ghana should ensure that human rights defenders work in an enabling environment that is free of stigma, reprisals, or criminal prosecution as a result of their human rights protection activities, including defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues,” Isaack said. “The authorities should stop harassing human rights defenders for doing their work and should disavow efforts to advance legislation that would further entrench discrimination against LGBT people."

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 17, 2021, 1:25 pm
Click to expand Image © Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

(Ottawa) – Canada incarcerates thousands of people, including those with disabilities, on immigration-related grounds every year in often abusive conditions, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today in a joint report ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20.

The 100-page report, “‘I Didn’t Feel Like a Human in There’: Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health,” documents how people in immigration detention, including those fleeing persecution and seeking protection in Canada, are regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world. With no set release date, they can be held for months or years. Many are held in provincial jails with the regular jail population and are often subjected to solitary confinement. Those with psychosocial disabilities – or mental health conditions – experience discrimination throughout the process.

“Canada’s abusive immigration detention system is in stark contrast to the rich diversity and the values of equality and justice that Canada is known for globally,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. “Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call on the Canadian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of people in the immigration and refugee protection system by gradually ending immigration detention in Canada.”

The research included 90 interviews with former immigration detainees and their relatives, mental health experts, academics, lawyers, civil society representatives, and government officials. Researchers also reviewed relevant reports and UN documents, as well as unpublished government documents obtained through 112 access to information requests.

Immigration detainees are not held on criminal charges or convictions, but many experience the country’s most restrictive confinement conditions, including maximum-security provincial jails and solitary confinement. They are handcuffed, shackled, searched, and restricted to small spaces with rigid routines and under constant surveillance.

“I felt like the world was ending for me. I wasn’t told what was happening, what I did wrong,” said a woman from a country in Africa who was detained upon arriving in Canada in 2019. “I told [the border officer] everything that happened to me back home, and how I escaped for my life … But she didn’t understand me, and she didn’t let me explain … I thought, ‘Maybe I should have stayed back home and died there.’”

Between April 2019 and March 2020, Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails. In the same period, another 136 children were “housed” in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 under age 6. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that, since 2016, Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year.

“Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees and newcomers with open arms, even though it’s one of the few countries in the global north where people seeking safety risk being locked up indefinitely,” said Samer Muscati, associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “This leaves many without the certainty – or even hope – of knowing when they will be free again, which can have a devastating impact on their mental health.”

The groups found that people with psychosocial disabilities are more likely to be detained in provincial jails rather than immigration holding centers. In Ontario provincial jails, they are often placed in solitary confinement. They may not be allowed to make independent decisions about their legal matters, with legally appointed representatives making decisions on their behalf. Many also face significant barriers to release and, once they are released, must adhere to stricter release conditions, which can lead to re-arrest if breached.

“To put it simply, immigration authorities discriminate against people with disabilities by making the conditions of their detention harsher and the terms of their release more onerous than for many other detainees,” Muscati said. “Instead of subjecting people with psychosocial disabilities to punishing conditions in immigration detention, the government should provide psychosocial, legal, and other support services that respect their autonomy and dignity in the community.”

The groups also found that many immigration detainees develop suicidal thoughts as they begin to lose hope that they will be released. Those fleeing traumatic experiences and persecution are particularly affected. Many former immigration detainees continue to live with the effects of psychosocial disabilities they developed during incarceration months and even years after their release.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) remains the only major law enforcement agency in Canada without independent civilian oversight. CBSA’s unchecked exercise of its broad mandate and enforcement powers has repeatedly resulted in serious human rights violations in the context of immigration detention, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

Immigration detainees who are from communities of color, particularly detainees who are Black, appear to be held for longer periods, often in provincial jails. In 2019 the largest portion of immigration detainees held for longer than 90 days was from countries in Africa.

“There should be no place in Canada for racism, cruelty, and human rights violations against people coming to this country seeking safety and a better life,” Nivyabandi said. “We call on Canada to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to further prevent these violations and open detention sites for international inspection.”

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that immigration detention “must not take place in facilities such as police stations, remand institutions, prisons,” and it “must not be punitive in nature.”

The Canadian government should stop holding people with physical or psychosocial disabilities in immigration detention, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. No one should be treated in a punitive manner for immigration-related reasons, including being held in solitary confinement or facilities used for criminal law enforcement, such as jails, or in jail-like facilities.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Canadian authorities have released immigration detainees at unprecedented rates,” Muscati said. “Instead of returning to business as usual as the pandemic comes under control in Canada, the government has a real opportunity to overhaul its immigration and refugee protection system to prioritize mental health and human rights.”

For additional information on Human Rights Watch’s findings, please see below.

Additional Accounts:

“I was just waiting and praying, trying to convince myself that it’s not that bad. I was thinking, ‘They can’t just leave me in here’ … I didn’t feel like a human in there: I felt like a dog. The guards would just open the latch to feed me.”

– Former immigration detainee held in an Ontario jail in 2020.

 Toronto, December 2020

 

“With a criminal sentence, your release date, that’s the one thing you hold on to.… It’s the one firm thing you can count on. When you don’t have that, you just spiral.… The unknown in immigration detention, its mental cruelty, torture. It’s beyond a human rights violation.”

– Former immigration detainee held in an Ontario provincial jail in 2020.

 Toronto, December 2020

 

“The first thing I saw in Canada was jail … When we mixed with Canadian inmates in jail, they asked us why we are there. They thought we were Taliban. We explained that we are fleeing the Taliban … I chose Canada because I thought it was welcoming to refugees. I thought Canada was better than this.… We are human like you, but we have no country.”

– Refugee claimant and former immigration detainee held in a Nova Scotia provincial jail upon arrival in Canada in 2017.

 Montreal, February 2021

 

“One of the officers said to me: ‘Canada is a free country for Canadians, not for foreigners.’ He seemed very happy to tell me: ‘You’re going to sleep in jail tonight.’ The other officers were laughing about this.… Immigration detention changed the way I see Canada. Before I came here, for me Canada was one of the best places in the world. For everyone who fled from persecution, it’s the perfect place for everyone who is looking for peace and a better life. But when I saw this, I thought: ‘All that we hear about Canada is fake, it’s just cinema.’”

– Refugee claimant and former immigration detainee, held in the Laval immigration holding center in 2020.

 Montreal, December 2020

 

“If we truly believed that immigration detainees feel pain, anxiety, love, and hope the way we do, incarceration would not be the solution. This could only be the solution if we truly believe they are not as much human as we are.”

– Immigration and refugee lawyer.

 Vancouver, November 2020

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 17, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Migrants and refugees on an overcrowded rubber boat during a rescue by the Spanish NGO Open Arms in the Mediterranean Sea, Feb. 12, 2021. © AP Photo/Bruno Thevenin

(Milan) – European Union governments have a collective responsibility to protect the lives and rights of people on the move along the central Mediterranean route, Human Rights Watch said today. EU heads of state will discuss migration policy at the next European Council meeting, on June 24-25, 2021, in Brussels.

“It is shameful and tragic that EU countries can’t agree on something as fundamental as saving lives at sea,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “People are drowning while European leaders squabble.”

In a 20-point action plan released on June 16, 2021, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) outline steps the EU and its member states should take to save lives at sea, ensure predictable disembarkation and relocation of people rescued, and promote safe and legal pathways for refugees and migrants. The EU should reset its cooperation with Libya to focus on protecting rights and ensuring accountability for abuses, the organizations said.

An estimated 20,000 people have died or disappeared in the central Mediterranean in the last decade. According to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, in 2021 alone, at least 664 died or were reported missing as of mid-June. To avoid responsibility for rescue, the EU since March 2019 has withdrawn ships from areas where unseaworthy boats carrying migrants and refugees are most likely to be. Planes coordinated by Frontex, the EU’s external border agency, and Operation Irini, an EU military mission, regularly pass information to authorities to enable the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept boats carrying migrants and refugees.

The Libya Coast Guard has intercepted and returned to Libya more than 11,700 people so far during 2021, including as many as 1,000 on June 12 alone. On June 15 the NGO Alarm Phone said around 200 people rescued by the Vos Triton, a commercial vessel, were subsequently transferred to a Libyan vessel and taken back to Libya. There, they risk being detained in nightmarish detention centers and experiencing abysmal conditions, violence, and forced labor.

To protect lives and rights at sea, EU institutions and member states should take concrete measures to prevent the return of migrants and refugees to Libya, including by coordinating rescues, even in international waters within the Libyan search-and-rescue region. Member states should move swiftly to adopt a clear, predictable system for ensuring that those rescued can disembark in a safe place – which Libya is not – as well as relocation arrangements for member states to share responsibility equitably.

The EU should reinstate active search and rescue operations and ensure that nongovernmental rescue groups are able to carry out their lifesaving activities without harassment or unfair impediment, the organizations said. Three rescue ships operated by nongovernmental groups are currently blocked in Italian ports for administrative reasons, with the Geo Barents, run by Médécins Sans Frontières, currently the only rescue ship operating in the central Mediterranean. It is waiting for authorization to land within a safe port with more than 400 people rescued on its first mission.

The European Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, issued in September 2020, acknowledged the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and called for better coordination among member states, including to establish a predictable relocation system. In keeping with the pact’s overall focus on sealing borders, though, the Commission pursued measures to regulate nongovernmental rescue efforts rather than to address state failures.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have both said that the EU should urgently adopt migration policies and cooperation arrangements that fully respect human rights and human dignity.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 9:31 am
Click to expand Image “Angela,” 20, walks with her son near her home after returning from school in Migori county, western Kenya. She is a Form 4 student at a girls-only school. Angela became pregnant when her trainee teacher offered to pay some of her primary school fees in return for sex. Her father tried to marry her off to suitors after she gave birth, but Angela’s mother fought against this and supported her return to school. She wants to go to college and study nursing. © 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) – African governments across the continent should accelerate efforts and provide adequate funding to ensure that all children can enjoy their right to an education, Human Rights Watch said today to mark the African Union’s Day of the African Child.

Despite important progress over the past decades to ensure wide ratification and implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, many African children are denied their fundamental right to education. This includes tens of thousands of girls who face discriminatory barriers due to pregnancy, parenthood, or child marriage. Children in at least 18 African countries are affected by attacks against education and the military use of their schools.

“Children across Africa face many interconnected abuses and barriers every day to their right to an education,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Millions of children have been excluded or have fallen behind on their learning during the pandemic, and the economic impact has forced many to take on often hazardous and gruelling work, forcing them to drop out of school.”

The 2021 African Union theme focuses on accelerating implementation of its Agenda 2040, which outlines the AU’s commitments to secure progress for children and young people. Ensuring the right to free, quality, and inclusive education, and reducing inequality in access to quality education is key to carrying out this agenda.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa had the world’s highest out-of-school rates and the highest rates of exclusion. Thirty-two million primary-school-age children and 28 million adolescents of secondary-school age were out of school. Pandemic-related school closures, and the lack of access to remote offline or online learning, have exacerbated previously existing inequalities.

Millions of children already faced financial, social, and discriminatory barriers and were at high risk of being excluded from a quality education – especially girls, children with disabilities, children from low-income households, and those living in areas affected by armed conflict. The increased reliance on private schools or unlawfully levied school fees and other indirect costs in public schools have long been a barrier for many children, including in countries that theoretically guarantee universal free primary and secondary education.

The pandemic has further exacerbated Africa’s socioeconomic inequalities and exposed existing gaps in education, health, and social protection systems, with significant impact on children’s lives. Nationwide school closures also contributed to an increase in child labor. Many children had no access to remote learning.

In countries including Uganda and Ghana, where cash assistance programs for families during the pandemic have been insufficient, many children have been forced into exploitative and hazardous child labor to support their families. In many cases, children had already dropped out of school before the pandemic because they could not afford to pay school fees, or were working grueling and long hours not only to support their families, but to earn money so they could return to school.

New estimates from the International Labour Organization and UNICEF found that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of children in child labor grew by 16.6 million between 2016 and 2020, driving the first increase in global rates in 20 years.

The African continent has the world’s highest adolescent pregnancy rates, and teenage pregnancies increased during lockdowns in various countries. Across Africa, tens of thousands of students are barred from school because they became pregnant or are parents. Many countries do not have policies for re-entry after giving birth or to manage adolescent pregnancy in schools.

Governments that have made strong commitments in recent years to ensure that pregnant girls and mothers can attend school should swiftly put the promise into action. They should follow the examples of Sierra Leone, Uganda, and São Tomé e Principe, which recently removed bans or amended policies to ensure that pregnant students and parents can resume formal education in public schools.

African governments should urgently adopt plans to redress the right to education for millions of students who are at risk of not returning to school once schools reopen for in-person teaching, as well as those who aged out of compulsory education during the pandemic. They should also ensure that primary and secondary education are fully free, guarantee quality, inclusive education to children with disabilities, strengthen public education systems, and ensure adequate investment and resources for education.

The African Union should also press governments to urgently adopt laws and policies that encourage girls to stay in school, and stop banning pregnant girls from continuing with their education and succeeding academically, Human Rights Watch said.

In response to the increase in poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, governments should provide cash allowances to families who need them. Governments should ensure that schools do not charge any fees or expect family contributions and follow up with children most at-risk of dropping out to ensure that they return to school.

All African Union countries should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental commitment to strengthen the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities during wartime. Although 30 African countries have endorsed the declaration – and have been leaders in implementing its commitments over the past year, children, teachers and schools are under attack, including in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

The ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is depriving many children of an education, with all parties to the conflict using schools as military bases, and soldiers damaging schools, destroying classrooms, and taking away learning equipment, Human Rights Watch found. In Nigeria, schools and schoolchildren are the target of high-profile attacks and abductions by armed groups, including insurgency groups like Boko Haram.

The African Union should continue its call on member states to ensure that children are safe from attacks against education and restrict the use of schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said.

“To achieve the AU’s Agenda 2040, the African Union should ensure that all African children have access to a good quality education, and that they are safe from violence, exploitation, or discrimination in any context,” Kaneza Nantulya said. “African governments should ensure that children are front and center in their pandemic recovery plans, prioritizing education, and urgently tackling longstanding problems in public education systems caused by the absence of legal frameworks, and inadequate policies and resources.”

Further information
Human Rights Watch research in African countries includes reports on barriers to primary and secondary education; privatization of education in Uganda; child marriage in Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe; school-related sexual and gender-based violence in Senegal; corporal punishment in Tanzania; discrimination against children with disabilities in South Africa and children with albinism in Tanzania and Mozambique; discrimination against pregnant students and adolescent mothers; child labor in Tanzania, Ghana, and Uganda; the forced begging and exploitation of children by Quranic teachers in Senegal; the impact of lead contamination in Zambia; child soldiers and children accused of being part of terrorist groups in Nigeria; attacks on education and military occupation of schools; and forced military training of secondary school students in Eritrea, among others.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 5:00 am

(Yerevan) – Armenian authorities have persisted with spurious criminal incitement charges against a human rights activist, Sashik Sultanyan, Human Rights Watch said today. The charges are in retaliation for an online interview Sultanyan gave in which he spoke about a variety of problems he believes the local Yezidi community face in Armenia.

Click to expand Image Sashik Sultanyan © Private

“Although Armenian authorities might disagree with the content of Sultanyan’s interview, the opinions he expressed in it fall squarely within the boundaries of legitimate speech, protected under international law,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately drop the charges against Sultanyan and ensure that there is no undue interference in his legitimate human rights work.”

Sultanyan is the chairperson of a nongovernmental group, Yezidi Center for Human Rights, which since 2018 has worked on community mobilization, awareness raising, and anti-corruption issues in Armenia.

On October 3, 2020, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) initiated a criminal investigation against Sultanyan, stemming from an interview he gave to the website Yezidinews.am that was published in June 2020. In the charge sheet, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, the investigator refers to several of Sultanyan’s statements to justify the criminal investigation into inciting national enmity among Yezidis, a national and ethnic minority in Armenia.

The investigator referred to Sultanyan’s interview statements alleging, among other things, that Yezidis experience discrimination in Armenia, that they cannot study their language or develop their culture, and that they are underrepresented in local government structures. The investigator also referenced Sultanyan’s allegations that Armenians had seized Yezidi property, that authorities do not protect their rights, and that Yezidis live “in fear.”

The investigation appears to have been opened based on a complaint filed by a leader of the Veto Movement, a radical group that has built a reputation for aggressive hostility against human rights defenders in Armenia.

The criminal case also is flawed procedurally, Human Rights Watch said. Although the investigation was opened in October 2020, the authorities provided information to Sultanyan about it only in May 2021. In a response dated November 21, 2020, to an official request for information, the NSS confirmed to Sultanyan that there was a criminal investigation underway but did not provide him with any further information or a copy of the decision to open the investigation. The NSS informed Sultanyan that he had no procedural status in the investigation and thus could not demand access to further information about the case. The refusal to share information with Sultanyan even when he was a subject of investigation undermines Sultanyan’s rights to a fair process and an effective remedy protected under articles 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On May 20, the NSS confiscated from Sultanyan three computers, one of which belonged to a family member, two telephones, and several USB sticks.

On June 2, 2021, Human Rights Watch wrote to the prosecutor’s office, urging it to drop charges against Sultanyan and ensure that he is able to do his legitimate human rights work without undue interference. In its June 10 response, the prosecutor’s office stated that the investigation had been opened “according to national and international norms,” and that the circumstances cannot be interpreted as violations of Sultanyan’s rights.

The authorities have wrongly characterized Sultanyan’s statements as “incitement,” Human Rights Watch said. They fall within the boundaries of legitimate speech protected under international law, in particular article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a party to both treaties, the Armenian government has specific legal obligations to protect freedom of speech.

“Armenian authorities are violating Sultanyan’s right to his freedom of expression,” Gogia said. “While fighting national and ethnic hatred is the government’s responsibility, it’s not achieved through criminalizing legitimate speech or otherwise violating the rights of those who speak out on sensitive matters.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 5:00 am

June 16 marks 10 years since the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a groundbreaking treaty establishing global labor standards to protect domestic workers’ rights. In that time, 32 countries have joined and dozens have improved labor protections for these workers—mostly women—who have long been neglected and exploited.

A new video features domestic worker leaders reflecting on the progress achieved since the  ILO Domestic Workers Convention was adopted. Changes include new, comprehensive laws in several countries, and incremental improvements in others, including minimum wages, rest days, paid holidays, written contracts, access to labor courts, and collective bargaining agreements. The organization of the domestic work sector has also been growing: the International Domestic Worker Federation, founded in 2013, now has half a million members worldwide.

Human Rights Watch, International Domestic Workers Federation, International Trade Union Confederation, and Women in the Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing created the video, which recounts how domestic workers, trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations mobilized to win a treaty that guarantees domestic workers equal protections as other workers, while addressing the rights of children and migrants in domestic work.

Click to expand Image Domestic worker and human rights organizations join forces to demonstrate at the opening of policy negotiations at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, June 2010. © 2010 Jennifer Natalie Fish

Society has long devalued “women’s work” such as caregiving, cleaning, and cooking. In 2010, the ILO found that only 10 percent of domestic workers worldwide had the same legal protections as other workers. Isolated in private homes, their working conditions were dependent on the whim of their employers.

For two decades, Human Rights Watch documented that domestic workers around the world routinely face long working hours with little rest. Some have been locked up inside houses and their low wages are often not paid on time—if at all. Many experience verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

There is much to celebrate and much to do. A new ILO report found 36 percent of domestic workers remain completely left out of labor laws. While legal protections for domestic workers across the Middle East have improved – the notorious kafala (sponsorship) system, in which employers double as immigration sponsors, leaves workers at high risk of abuse. A 2020 Human Rights Watch report highlighted how domestic workers cannot access the protections of India’s sexual harassment law. And while several countries in Latin America and Europe have strong laws, implementation remains a key challenge.

But the domestic workers’ movement is growing stronger each day. Governments should step up to ratify and apply the treaty. The next 10 years can promise even greater victories.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 4:00 am
Click to expand Image Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

(The Hague) – The new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should seize opportunities to strengthen the court’s delivery of justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said today. Karim Khan, the court’s third prosecutor, will be sworn in on June 16, 2021, beginning a nine-year term following his election by ICC member countries.

Khan, a UK national, was a legal adviser in the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He also served as defense counsel on various cases at the ICC, the Yugoslav tribunal, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was most recently the head of the United Nations Security Council-mandated investigation of crimes committed by the extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq. He succeeds Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national, who had served as the court’s prosecutor since 2012.

“The outgoing ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek an Afghanistan investigation and to move forward with a Palestine probe, despite intense political pressure, reinforced the office’s independence,” said Liz Evenson, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Karim Khan should build on his predecessor’s efforts to ensure that those most responsible for grave crimes are held to account, regardless of their power or position.”

Bensouda’s term was marked by decisive efforts to expand the reach of the court around the globe to address serious international crimes. In addition to Afghanistan and Palestine, during her tenure the prosecutor’s office opened investigations in Bangladesh/Myanmar, Burundi, Georgia, and Mali, as well as a second investigation in the Central African Republic, and announced that the situations in Nigeria, Philippines, and Ukraine warrant full investigation. The prosecutor persevered in opening the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine in the face of a hostile campaign by the former US administration, including financial sanctions on the prosecutor and another senior court official, to thwart the court’s scrutiny of alleged abuses by US and Israeli nationals.

Human Rights Watch calls on the incoming prosecutor to safeguard the Office of the Prosecutor’s independence and impartiality, while also prioritizing increasing the resources necessary to robustly carry out the court’s mandate. The court’s 123 member countries fund its budget and have limited it to more or less zero growth since 2017, despite an expanded workload. This has hampered progress in investigations, and Bensouda cited the funding issue as one factor affecting her decision to delay seeking formal investigations in Ukraine and Nigeria.

Khan can also increase the court’s effectiveness by following through on an ongoing review of the court’s performance aimed at strengthening the ICC’s delivery of justice, Human Rights Watch said. Member countries, with the support of the court’s leadership, commissioned a review by a group of independent experts. This followed disappointing setbacks in several cases as well as other gaps in the court’s performance. The experts addressed a number of recommendations to the Office of the Prosecutor to bolster investigations and to ensure a more strategic assessment and conduct of its work in any given situation.

Human Rights Watch intends to publish shortly initial reflections on the experts’ recommendations regarding some key issues for the Office of the Prosecutor. The incoming prosecutor and his team are expected to assess these and other recommendations.

Khan will submit a list of candidates to ICC member countries for the election in December of the deputy prosecutor. The independent expert review reported on incidents of harassment and bullying at the court, particularly within the Office of the Prosecutor. Khan has stated his commitment to ensuring a safe workplace for all staff. He should ensure that member countries put in place a thorough process, following best practices, for vetting deputy prosecutor candidates, including for past allegations of workplace misconduct.

“Member countries need to change their approach to the ICC, or financial and political pressure could severely limit the court’s reach and cut off victims’ access to justice,” Evenson said. “Khan should urge member countries to scale-up the budget to meet the court’s pressing needs while providing a vision for the prosecutor’s office that ensures meaningful delivery on the court’s mandate in its various country situations.”
 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 4:00 am

(Seoul) – Widespread internet posting in South Korea of sexual images of women and girls without their consent is having a devastating impact on the victims, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should be doing more to prevent and respond to these digital sex crimes.

The 96-page report, “‘My Life is Not Your Porn’: Digital Sex Crimes in South Korea” found that despite legal reforms in South Korea, women and girls targeted in digital sex crimes – acts of online and tech-enabled gender-based violence – face significant difficulty in pursuing criminal cases and civil remedies, in part due to entrenched gender inequity. Digital sex crimes are crimes involving digital images – almost always of women and girls – that are captured without the victim’s consent, shared nonconsensually, or sometimes manipulated or faked.

June 16, 2021 “My Life is Not Your Porn”

“Officials in the criminal legal system – most of whom are men – often seem to simply not understand, or not accept, that these are very serious crimes,” said Heather Barr, interim co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Anyone who has ever viewed one of these nonconsensual images could have taken a screen shot and can share that screen shot any time, on any website, from which it may spread uncontrollably. Survivors are forced to deal with these crimes for the rest of their lives – with little assistance from the legal system.”

The report is based on 38 interviews, with survivors of digital sex crimes and experts, and an online survey of survivors.

In 2008, fewer than 4 percent of sex crime prosecutions in South Korea involved illegal filming. By 2017 the number of these cases had increased elevenfold, from 585 cases to 6,615, and constituted 20 percent of sex crime prosecutions. Much of the public attention to digital sex crimes was initially driven by use of tiny cameras (“spycams”) to covertly record footage in places like toilets, changing rooms, and hotels, with those placing the cameras sometimes earning money by selling the footage.

The women and girls targeted face major barriers to justice. Police often refuse to accept their complaints and behave in abusive ways, minimizing harm, blaming them, treating images insensitively, and engaging in inappropriate interrogation. When cases move ahead, survivors struggle to obtain information about their cases and to have their voices heard by the court.

In 2019, prosecutors dropped 43.5 percent of sexual digital crimes cases, compared with 27.7 percent of homicide cases and 19 percent of robbery cases. Judges often impose low sentences – in 2020, 79 percent of those convicted of capturing intimate images without consent received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two. Fifty-two percent received only a suspended sentence. The problems survivors face in the justice system are exacerbated by a lack of women police, prosecutors, and judges.

Civil remedies such as a court order compelling the guilty party to delete images or pay damages to a victim are not easily available. When a civil claim is brought based on facts that are also the subject of a criminal prosecution, it is common practice to defer the civil action until conclusion of the criminal case. This means survivors cannot seek assistance during the time when it may be most needed.

Survivors are typically too exhausted and traumatized by the end of a criminal trial – and sometimes multiple appeals, over the course of several years – to initiate a new proceeding in civil court, even if the criminal case has established facts that would support such a case. Filing a civil complaint would require victims to indicate their names and addresses, making this information available to the public, including to the person who committed the crime, something few survivors are comfortable doing.

“Digital sex crimes have become so common, and so feared, in South Korea that they are affecting the quality of life of all women and girls,” said Barr. “Women and girls told us they avoided using public toilets and felt anxious about hidden cameras in public and even in their homes. An alarming number of survivors of digital sex crimes said they had considered suicide.”

South Korea’s government and National Assembly have taken some important steps in recent years to reform the law and provide services to people experiencing digital sex crimes – largely in response to mass protests by activists in 2018. But these measures are still inadequate, in part because they have failed to grapple with deep forms of gender inequity that fuel and normalize digital sex crimes. In the 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap ranking, South Korea ranked 102 out of 156 countries, with the largest gap on economic participation and opportunity of any advanced economy.

Click to expand Image South Korean women protest against non-consensual filming and sharing of intimate images on August 4, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. © 2018 Jean Chung/Getty Images

South Korean women do four times as much unpaid work as men and face a 32.5 percent gender pay gap. Gender-based violence is widespread – in a 2017 survey of 2,000 South Korean men, nearly 80 percent of respondents admitted to violent acts against an intimate partner – compared with the global estimates that one in three women experience such violence. The national sexual education curriculum, issued in 2015, has been widely criticized for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes.

“The root cause of digital sex crimes in South Korea is widely accepted harmful views about and conduct toward women and girls that the government urgently needs to address,” Barr said. “The government has tinkered with the law but has not sent a clear and forceful message that women and men are equal, and misogyny is unacceptable.”

Sample Cases from the Report

Park Ji-young (most names are pseudonyms) was looking through her boyfriend’s phone when she saw that it contained photos of women that appeared to have been taken covertly in public – up their skirts, or of their buttocks. She later gained access to his cloud storage where she found 40-50 intimate images that seemed to be of sexual partners, including four of her. She tried to find the other women in the photos, but her now ex-boyfriend threatened her.

She went to the police. But a lawyer assigned to help her repeatedly urged her to drop the case. She found another lawyer but before the case was sent to the prosecutor a detective called, saying if she did not agree to an out-of-court resolution the ex-boyfriend’s lawyer would seek to have her prosecuted for defamation and for accessing the man’s files.

It was 1 a.m. in 2018 and Jieun Choi was trying to sleep when her doorbell began ringing repeatedly. When she answered the door, she found a police officer who informed her that a man had been filming her, through her window, from the roof of a nearby building. The man told police he had been filming her for two weeks. When police obtained a warrant and seized the perpetrator’s electronic equipment, they found he had collected images of seven other women, and Jieun Choi later learned that he had also been charged with the same offense several years earlier. He received a suspended sentence.

Lee Ye-rin’s employer made romantic overtures toward her; he was married, and she was not interested. One day he bought her a clock as a gift. She put the clock in her bedroom, but later found that it was a spycam and that he had been streaming footage for a month and a half. She faced lasting impact from the experience. “What happened took place in my own room – so sometimes, in regular life, in my own room, I feel terrified without reason.” A year later, she continued to take medication prescribed for depression and anxiety.

Sohn Ji-won was 16 when she met someone online through a website that connects people randomly to chat. “I was having hard time, so maybe I needed someone I could depend on,” she said. He demanded sexual images. She sent them, and then regretted it and tried to delete them. He became abusive. She met other men on Telegram, who pressured her into sending intimate photos, promising to delete them immediately – only for her to later find one of the photos posted in a chat group.

Two months after Kang Yu-jin ended a four-year relationship, she began receiving messages from strangers. One sent photos of her posted online, including “my address, the school where I had studied, the name of my job, the address of my job, and a photo of the exterior of the building where I lived.” Her ex confessed and apologized, But the abuse continued and escalated.

The posts – hundreds of them, over several months – appeared on sites including Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Torrent, YouTube, Instagram, Naver Blog, Naver Cafe, Daum blog, Daum cafe, and Google photos. One day, two strange men showed up at Kang Yu-jin’s office, drawn by the posts. “There were men who wanted to contact me at the church where my parents attended … and there were men who sent me a message to have sex,” she said. She was forced to quit her job and fled her home permanently.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 16, 2021, 1:01 am
Click to expand Image Screen grab from the video that Khalimat Taramova sent to Chechen authorities, saying she had left Chechnya voluntarily because of abuse. © 2021 Медиазона via Youtube

For about six months before 22-year-old Khalimat Taramova fled Chechnya on June 4, her family kept the young woman, who identifies as bisexual, under lock and key. They beat and verbally abused her and forced her to undergo so-called conversion therapy. In May, Taramova reached out to a prominent LGBT rights group begging them to help her reach safety. They promised to help but said it would take some time.

Taramova couldn’t bear the abuse anymore. A friend who feared for Taramova’s life took her to Marem shelter for battered women, in Makhachkala, in neighboring Dagestan.  On the advice of the activists running the shelter, Taramova recorded a video saying she had left Chechnya voluntarily because of abuse and sent it to Chechen authorities.

On June 10, a Dagestani police officer knocked on the shelter’s door, saying that he had information that Taramova, whose family had reported her missing, was staying there and that he needed to confirm she was okay.

Several hours after he interviewed Taramova in the presence of a lawyer who cooperated with the shelter, police stormed the shelter and detained the activists who they transported to a police station. Then several Chechen police officers and Taramova’s father rushed in. Taramova and her friend, who were huddled on the balcony, threatened to jump. The officers and her father left, but shortly after, a man, introducing himself as a concerned neighbor, arrived and promised to take the women to safety. Desperate, they got into his car; he drove them to a police station.

The women were held at the station until the next morning, when Chechen police, who were waiting outside, detained Taramova and forced her into a car. Dagestani officers restrained her friend.

Chechnya’s broadcaster ran a story on Taramova this week, in which she says on camera that she is “fine,” her family is taking good care of her, there had never been any abuse, and those who took her to Dagestan probably drugged her. This is far from the first time Chechen authorities have shown victims of abuses or their relatives “recanting” on camera.

Russian federal authorities have binding legal obligations to ensure Taramova’s safety and freedom. Failure to act will implicate Moscow deeper in the arbitrary detention and abuse of a woman whose life is in danger. Taramova’s well-being and fate lies with both Grozny and Moscow.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 15, 2021, 8:08 pm
Click to expand Image Thousands protest the anti-LGBT law in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2021.  Lydia Gall/© 2021 Human Rights Watch

Hungary’s parliament adopted a bill today which effectively bans discussion of sexual and gender diversity in schools, media, advertising, and other public spaces, slapping those who violate it with administrative sanctions that could include fines. Most opposition parties boycotted the vote in protest.

On June 14, thousands of people gathered in Budapest to protest the homophobic and transphobic law, which conflates pedophilia with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The law further stigmatizes LGBT people and facilitates the government’s ongoing trampling of their rights.

One protester – maybe a LGBT person – carried a sign at Monday’s protest asking “can our child look at us?” – hinting at the question of whether that, too, would violate the new law banning “portraying and promoting” a gender different from that at birth, change of sex, or homosexuality.

Ahead of the parliamentary session on Monday, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, called on the members of Hungary’s parliament to reject the bill and urged them to “remain vigilant against such initiatives to push through measures that limit human rights or stigmatize against some members of society.”

The law, reminiscent of the so-called Russian 2013 “gay-propaganda” law, is a cynical attack by the ruling party Fidesz on the human dignity of LGBT people for political gain. By falsely associating harmful illegal behavior with LGBT people, authorities invite hostility and hatred against them, fueling homophobia and transphobia.

Initially designed to strengthen legal protections against pedophilia and sexual crimes against children, last minute modifications proposed by Fidesz members transformed the bill into a tool to persecute and stigmatize LGBT people, posing a risk to their safety and well-being and severely curtailing free speech. When it enters into effect, children will not be able to access inclusive sexuality education, and accurate public information on LGBT issues will be a thing of the past.

This brazen demonization of a marginalized group should be illegal in a European Union member state. The law erodes core EU values of non-discrimination and tolerance guaranteed in EU treaties. Hungary’s President, Janos Ader, should veto the bill and send it back to parliament for review.

The EU Commission and individual member states should use all means available to block this law. They should stand in solidarity with Hungary’s LGBT population and hold Hungary’s government to account for this latest anti-LGBT attack.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: June 15, 2021, 2:07 pm