Human Rights After
September 11

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    September 11 Two Years On
    (New York, September 10, 2003) - On this second anniversary, Human Rights Watch expresses its deep sympathy for all the victims of the September 11th attacks, and the many other massive, direct and indiscriminate attacks against civilians that have been a tragic hallmark of the past year. More..

    September 11: One Year On
    (New York, September 5, 2002) — The September 11 attacks were a crime against humanity that flouted the fundamental values of international human rights and humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch once again expresses its deep sympathy for the victims of the September 11 attacks and their family members. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly expressed its outrage at such attacks on innocent civilians and believes those responsible should be held accountable and brought to justice before a court of law.

U.S. Policy, Domestic

    U.S.: Right to Counsel in Military Commissions
    We appreciate your efforts to clarify the Department of Defense's views. Nevertheless, we remain concerned that certain rules impose unjustifiable limitations on the right to counsel and effective representation, and as such are inconsistent with principles firmly embedded in U.S. constitutional law, the rules for courts-martial, and international human rights law. Your letter's explanations either fail to address our core objections or offer justifications that do not withstand scrutiny.
    October 20, 2003

    Human Rights, the Bush Administration, and the Fight against Terrorism: The Need for a Positive Vision
    Leadership requires more than a big stick and a thick wallet. It also requires a positive vision shared by others and conduct consistent with that vision. The campaign against terrorism is no exception. The United States, as a major target, took the lead in combating terrorism. But the global outpouring of sympathy that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001 soon gave way to a growing reluctance to join the fight and even resentment toward the government leading it.
    October 9, 2003

    Briefing US Congressional Staff on Counterterrorism and Civil Liberties
    Human Rights Watch planned and coordinated a congressional staff briefing on counterterrorism and civil liberties in the United States, focusing on expanded powers of detention and surveillance after 9-11. The June 2 briefing, which was co-sponsored by Senators Leahy, Kennedy, and Feingold, drew over 75 congressional staff from 31 Senate offices and 13 House offices. Wendy Patten, U.S. Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, moderated and spoke about secret arrests and secret detentions. Other presenters included the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Center for National Security Studies, the National Council of La Raza, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the OSI Policy Center.
    July 15, 2003

    Developing Civil Rights Measures in US Homeland Security
    Human Rights Watch has been working with administration officials, congressional aides, and other nongovernmental colleagues to develop civil rights oversight and accountability mechanisms within the Department of Homeland Security. The Migration Policy Institute recently released a report that analyzed the impact of the U.S. government's policies on domestic security and civil liberties. The report, which was prepared by a team of experts on national security, immigration and civil liberties issues, recommends, among other things, that a senior-level position devoted to monitoring civil liberties be created within the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, a recommendation that Human Rights Watch has urged the administration to adopt.
    July 15, 2003

    US Courts Abandon Guantanamo Detainees
    The United States may have succeeded in carving out a piece of the world devoid of courts - and the fundamental rights they protect. A federal appeals court ruled this month that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over the claims of detainees held on the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba because the base in on sovereign Cuban soil.
    March 21, 2003

    United States: Reports of Torture of Al-Qaeda Suspects
    The Bush administration must promptly investigate and address allegations of torture of suspected al-Qaeda detainees or risk criminal prosecution, Human Rights Watch said today. In a letter to President George W. Bush, Human Rights Watch said it was “deeply concerned” by allegations made in the Washington Post that detainees had been subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan or while held by U.S. allies.
    December 27, 2002

    United States: Abuses Plague Sept. 11 Investigation
    Checks on Government Authority Should Be Restored The U.S. government's investigation of the September 11 attacks has been marred by arbitrary detentions, due process violations, and secret arrests, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The U.S. Department of Justice has misused immigration charges to dodge legal restraints on its power to detain and interrogate people as it pursues its terrorist probe.
    August 15, 2002

    Presumption of Guilt: Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees
    On September 11, 2001, hijackers turned four airplanes into instruments of terror. Their horrific crime left some 3,000 dead, devastated the lives of many thousands more, destroyed the World Trade Center, and created a sense of urgency about protecting the United States from future terrorists attacks. September 11 was not just an assault, however, on lives and buildings. It was also, as United States President George W. Bush pointed out, an attack on the fundamental freedoms on which the U.S. was founded. Unfortunately, the fight against terrorism launched by the United States after September 11 did not include a vigorous affirmation of those freedoms. Instead, the country has witnessed a persistent, deliberate, and unwarranted erosion of basic rights against abusive governmental power that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law. Most of those directly affected have been non-U.S. citizens. Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of Justice has subjected them to arbitrary detention, violated due process in legal proceedings against them, and run roughshod over the presumption of innocence.
    August 15, 2002

    U.S. Circumvents Courts With Enemy Combatant Tag
    President Bush's unilateral designation of Abdullah al-Mujahir as an "enemy combatant" creates a dangerous loophole that threatens basic criminal justice guarantees, Human Rights Watch said today.
    June 12, 2002

    U.S.: Growing Problem Of Guantanamo Detainees
    As the U.S. administration prepares to send some 150 new detainees to Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights Watch warned that their legal status is growing more problematic by the day. In a letter sent this week to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch challenged plans that the Bush administration has floated to pursue troubling lines of prosecution or even to hold the detainees indefinitely without trial.
    May 30, 2002

    Human Rights Watch Seeks Access to Afghan Detainees
    Human Rights Watch asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for access to U.S. facilities in Afghanistan to investigate the conditions under which detainees are being held by U.S. armed forces.
    February 12, 2002

    United States: Incomplete Access to Sept. 11 Detainees
    The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) continues to refuse to disclose basic information about people detained after September 11, Human Rights Watch said today.
    February 8, 2002

    U.S.: Bush Errs in Geneva Convention Rules
    U.S. President George W. Bush correctly acknowledged that the Geneva Conventions apply to the conflict in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said today. But he erred in deciding that the Conventions do not cover al-Qaeda detainees and by categorically ruling out prisoner of war status for Taliban detainees without convening a competent tribunal, as the Geneva Conventions require.
    February 7, 2002

    Background Paper on Geneva Conventions and Persons Held by U.S. Forces
    This background paper highlights the international law issues surrounding the status and treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan in U.S. custody. It cites the need for a formal and individualized determination of prisoner of war status where that status is in doubt. This paper also sets out international law requirements governing prisoners of war and so-called "unlawful combatants," including humane treatment, interrogation and prosecution.
    January 29, 2002

    U.S. Officials Misstate Geneva Convention Requirements
    In a letter this morning to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Human Rights Watch rebutted claims made by some administration officials that key Geneva Conventions requirements do not apply to the Guantanamo detainees.
    January 28, 2002

    What to do with our 'detainees'?
    What do the conventions tell us about how these prisoners should be treated? The al-Qaeda detainees probably are not entitled to formal POW status because they did not fight for a regular army, wear insignia that identified them as soldiers, or respect the rules of war. If so, they could be tried for war crimes or terrorist acts in the President's proposed military commissions, as long as the trials respect due process.
    January 28, 2002

    U.S. Must Take the High Road With Prisoners of War
    AS THE U.S. armed forces begin to transfer captured Taliban and al-Qaida members to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, American officials are sending the public two messages about conditions there. The first message is that the camp will be no tropical resort. As a senior officer noted, "comfortable" will not be a word used to describe the detainees' accommodations.
    January 16, 2002

    More on Human Rights and the U.S.A....

U.S. Policy, Foreign

    Fatally Flawed: Cluster Bombs and Their Use by the United States in Afghanistan
    Although the United States made some efforts to reduce the civilian harm caused by its cluster bombs in Afghanistan, the fundamental problems of the weapon remained. Human Rights Watch found that the United States did not take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, as required by international humanitarian law, when it used cluster bombs in or near populated areas. U.S. cluster bombs also left an estimated 12,400 explosive duds—de facto antipersonnel landmines—that continue to take civilian lives to this day.
    Report, December 18, 2002
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    U.S. Cluster Bombs Killed Civilians in Afghanistan
    New Report Illustrates Dangers for Iraq
    During its air war in Afghanistan, the United States dropped nearly a quarter-million cluster bomblets that killed or injured scores of civilians, especially children, both during and after strikes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
    Press Release, December 18, 2002

    Afghanistan's Women Still Need Our Help
    The common perception outside Afghanistan is that when the U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban, women and girls were liberated. The truth is somewhat different. Despite improvements in access to education and an end to the Taliban's ban on working outside the home, an array of Taliban-era restrictions on women remains in place. One of the worst places is the western province of Herat, ruled by local warlord Ismail Khan.
    December 17, 2002     Commentary

    The War on Women
    After the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government threw its full energies into combating terrorism emerging from militants in the Islamic world. But it has done little to expose and condemn the ways some states are using radical interpretations of Islamic law, or Shariah, to subordinate and exclude women. The U.S. should be equally concerned about the consequences of these interpretations on Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
    August 22, 2002     Commentary

    U.S.: Military Aid After 9/11 Threatens Human Rights
    Since September 11, the U.S. government has extended new military assistance to governments engaged in serious human rights abuse, including torture, political killings, illegal detention, religious persecution, and attacks on civilians during armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
    February 15, 2002

    U.S. Officials Misstate Geneva Convention Requirements
    In a letter this morning to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Human Rights Watch rebutted claims made by some administration officials that key Geneva Conventions requirements do not apply to the Guantanamo detainees.
    January 28, 2002

    Bush/Karzai Summit: Reconstruction Aid and Rights Protection Essential
    Human Rights Watch today urged President Bush to offer more U.S. assistance for Afghanistan's reconstruction needs when he meets Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim administration, in Washington on January 28.
    January 25, 2002

    Afghanistan: U.S. and U.K. Should Provide Logistic Support for Detention of Captured Fighters
    With fighting in Kandahar intensifying , Human Rights Watch today issued an urgent appeal to all anti-Taliban forces to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners in their custody.
    December 1, 2001

    Past U.S. Criticism of Military Tribunals and Denial of Due Process Abroad
    The U.S. State Department has repeatedly criticized the use of military tribunals to try civilians and other similar limitations on due process around the world. Indeed, its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices evaluate each country on the extent to which it guarantees the right to a "fair public trial" - which it defines to include many of the due process rights omitted by the President's Executive Order.
    November 27, 2001

    Cluster Bomblets Litter Afghanistan
    Nearly 5,000 unexploded and highly volatile cluster bomblets may be littered across areas of Afghanistan that were targeted by U.S. warplanes, Human Rights Watch said today.
    November 16, 2001

    More on U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights...

Repression in the Name of Anti-Terrorism

    Opportunism in the Face of Tragedy
    Repression in the name of anti-terrorism

    For the forseeable future, much of the world will understandably be focused on efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks of September 11 to justice. In the meantime, some governments may cynically try to take advantage of this struggle to justify or intensify their own crackdowns on political opponents or religious groups.
    Updated January 20, 2002

    Anti-Terror Campaign Cloaking Human Rights Abuse
    New Global Survey Finds Crackdown on Civil Liberties

    The anti-terror campaign led by the United States is inspiring opportunistic attacks on civil liberties around the world, Human Rights Watch warned in its annual global survey released today.
    January 16, 2002

    U.K.: New Anti-Terror Law Rolls Back Rights
    New anti-terrorism legislation adopted yesterday in the U.K. marks another step in the U.K.'s retreat from human rights and refugee protection obligations, Human Rights Watch said today.
    December 14, 2001

    Backgrounder on Anti-Terrorism Legislation in India
    The Indian parliament is currently debating the enactment of legislation that would reinstate a modified version of the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) of 1985 (amended 1987). TADA led to tens of thousands of politically motivated detentions, torture, and other human rights violations.
    November 20, 2001

    More on Repression in the Name of Anti-Terrorism...

International Coalition

    Afghanistan: Donors in Tokyo Must Fund Human Rights
    The international donors who are meeting in Tokyo on January 21-22 should fully fund human rights initiatives for Afghanistan.
    January 18, 2002

    Saudi Arabia: Allies Must End Human Rights Silence
    Saudi Arabia has long been a key strategic ally of the United States in the Middle East -- as the world's largest oil exporter, as host for some of the most sophisticated military bases available to the United States in the region, and as the largest market in the region for US goods and services, especially arms. This relationship was strained when it was disclosed that fifteen of the nineteen alleged September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals. US officials have consistently sought to downplay the tension, as they have consistently downplayed the poor human rights record of Saudi Arabia.
    December 19, 2001

    Security Concerns Raised by Arms Transfers from Candidate Countries
    Open Letter to European Union (E.U.) Foreign Ministers, Commissioners Prodi, Verheugen and Patten and High Representative Javier Solana
    We hope that as you work together to combat terrorism, you will also remain vigilant to the grave security risks posed by irresponsible arms trading practices in central and eastern Europe. We further hope that you incorporate measures to improve arms trade controls across Europe into the E.U.'s anti-terrorism strategy and assess arms trade practices, together with other political and security issues, when evaluating the progress of candidate countries toward E.U. accession.
    October 19, 2001

    European Union: Scrutinize New Security Proposals
    Human Rights Watch today called on the European Union leadership to convene an expert panel to review all new security proposals for compliance with international human rights standards.
    October 15, 2001

    Open Letter to European Union President Guy Verhofstadt
    Human Rights Watch supports the European Union's condemnation of the horrific attacks in the United States on September 11. We also urge E.U. member states to remain vigilant to ensure that all military action against Afghanistan is in full conformity with international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the protection of the civilian population. October 12, 2001

    America and China Can Go Further
    The relationship between the United States and China has apparently turned a corner with Beijing's decision to become a partner in the global fight against terrorism. George W. Bush will travel to Shanghai next week for his first meeting with Jiang Zemin. Can the two leaders use the more cooperative atmosphere to make progress on other issues?
    October 12, 2001     Editorial

    Egypt: Background on Human Rights
    Egypt has long been a key country for U.S. strategy in the Middle East and will soon host some 23,000 U.S. troops for long-scheduled military exercises, Operation Bright Star. Egyptian officials appear to be banking on this strategic linkage to deflect attention from the country's poor human rights record.
    October 10, 2001     Backgrounder

Hate Crimes in the Aftermath

    U.S. Officials Should Have Been Better Prepared For Hate Crime Wave
    (Arabic)   (Français)   (Español)
    Public officials tried vigorously to contain a wave of hate crimes in the United States after September 11, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Nevertheless, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 1700 percent during 2001. The report documents anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence and the local, state and federal response to it.
    November 14, 2002

    What To Do In Cases of Discrimination in the U.S.A.
    from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Legal Department
    October 25, 2001

    Letter to U.S. State Governors on the Prevention of Hate Crimes
    in the Aftermath of the September 11 Attacks

    Dear Governor: We write to urge you to act decisively against acts of retaliation in your state directed toward Muslims, Sikhs or persons of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. As you know, since September 11, there have already been numerous reports of violent assaults, harassment, and threats against men, women and children targeted solely because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity or nationality. An urgent, vigorous response is required to stop these shameful acts.
    September 25, 2001

    Stop Hate Crimes Now
    Human Rights Watch condemns the violent assaults, harassment and threats against Muslims, Sikhs and people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent that have occurred in the United States since September 11.
    September 21, 2001

    Report Hate Crimes
    Contact information for groups around the world monitoring hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs and people of Middle Eastern or South Asian
    September 21, 2001

Human Rights Watch Response

    Letter to the members of the Human Rights Watch community
    As the United States prepares now for war against an undefined foe, we must remember how precious are the lives of those who eschew violence and combat. Like the office workers in the World Trade Center, the ordinary women and men of Afghanistan do not deserve to die.
    September 21, 2001

    Civilian Life Must Be Respected
    Human Rights Watch Response to Attacks on the U.S.
    We profoundly condemn yesterday's cruel attacks in the United States and express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people. We urge all governments to unite to investigate this crime, to prevent its recurrence, and to bring to justice those who are responsible. [Also en Français  en Español.]
    September 12, 2001

Response at the United Nations

    Building a brighter future for Afghans
    The rebuilding of a peaceful Afghanistan requires a commitment to protecting the human rights of all Afghan citizens, including women and ethnic minorities. The International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan taking place in Tokyo should take action to support the institutions and programs needed to promote human rights and secure justice.
    January 20, 2002

    United Nations: Dangers Still Present in Anti-Terror Treaty
    (New York, January 28, 2002) Today, the United Nations Sixth Committee of the General Assembly is resuming debate on a comprehensive treaty on international terrorism. The draft text that is being considered, however, threatens to do serious damage to human rights protection, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.
    January 28, 2002

    U.N.: Kabul Security Forces Should Be Expandable
    The proposed international security force for Kabul should be expandable to meet security needs throughout the country, Human Rights Watch urged today.
    December 7, 2001

    U.N.: Dangers in Anti-Terror Treaty
    Now that the United Nations has decided to schedule more time to complete a comprehensive treaty on international terrorism, governments should revise the text in order to avoid doing serious damage to human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today.
    November 21, 2001

    Recommendations for Accountability in Afghanistan
    With the ground rapidly shifting in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council setting out key recommendations for the future of Afghanistan.
    November 14, 2001

    Commentary on the Draft Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, Articles 2 and 18
    Human Rights Watch is concerned that certain provisions of the draft Comprehensive Convention could be interpreted in such a way as to undermine and conflict with fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
    October 22, 2001

    Commentary on the Draft Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism
    As the United Nations General Assembly’s Sixth Committee resumes it negotiations on the Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (“the Comprehensive Convention”) Human Rights Watch believes that it is crucial that the Comprehensive Convention’s text uphold longstanding and universally-recognized international human rights standards.
    October 17, 2001

    United Nations: Responding to Sept. 11
    The United Nations General Assembly, which today opens a debate on curbing terrorism worldwide, must ensure that international efforts to combat terrorism respect civilian life.
    October 1, 2001

    HRW Statement to the intersessional meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights
    Mr. Chairman, Exactly two weeks ago, the cruel attacks in the United States killed thousands of people and left the world profoundly shaken. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people. It was a strike on the most fundamental principles guiding this Commission.
    Geneva, September 25, 2001

    U.N. Commission Must Address the September 11 Attacks
    The upcoming intersessional meeting of the Commission on Human Rights will be held exactly two weeks after the cruel attacks in the United States killed thousands of people and left the world profoundly shaken. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people. It was a strike on the most fundamental principles guiding this Commission.
    September 21, 2001

Past Human Rights Watch Reports on U.S. Military Actions

    Ticking Time Bombs: NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions in Yugoslavia
    Human Rights Watch is concerned that the use of cluster bombs raises questions of humanitarian law, and that the use in particular of the CBU-89 Gator scatterable mine would directly violate the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the production, use, trade, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines. The extensive use in armed conflict of cluster bombs, which contain large numbers of submunitions, uniquely threatens the civilian population.
    June 1999
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    Civilian Deaths in the NATO Air Campaign
    Despite precautions, including the use of a higher percentage of precision-guided munitions than in any other major conflict in history, civilian casualties occurred. Human Rights Watch has conducted a thorough investigation of civilian deaths as a result of NATO action. On the basis of this investigation, Human Rights Watch has found that there were ninety separate incidents involving civilian deaths during the seventy-eight day bombing campaign. Some 500 Yugoslav civilians are known to have died in these incidents.
    February 2000

    Human Rights Watch Urges Sudan Factory Inspection
    Questions persist about the Khartoum pharmaceutical factory bombed by the United States on August 20.
    September 16, 1998

    Needless Deaths in the Gulf War
    Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War

    This report applies the rules of war governing international armed conflicts to examine civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects from bomb and missile attacks carried out by the allied forces against Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, and from missile attacks by Iraq against Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
    July 1991
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Afghan refugees in Pakistan, April 2001. © 2001 Zalmai Ahad

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