Principal Concerns of Human Rights Watch for the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Memorandum to Member States and Observer States of the CHR
Table of Contents
As the most vulnerable members of society, children are frequently subject to sensational violence. While the devastating impact of armed conflict on children has become well-known, millions of other children—in schools, in orphanages, on the street, in detention or police custody, and in fields and factories—are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered, often by the very individuals responsible for their care and safety.
Children frequently experience violence at the hands of police and other law enforcement officials. In September 2001, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions charged that up to 800 children and young adults had been murdered in Honduras since 1998, many at the hands of police. Seen as vagrants or criminals, street children have been tortured, mutilated, and subjected to death threats and extrajudicial execution, and are routinely beaten to extort money or sex.
Children are often detained by police without sufficient cause, and then subject to brutal interrogations and torture in order to elicit confessions or information. Once placed in juvenile and criminal correctional institutions, children are frequently mistreated and abused, enduring physical abuse, torture, forced labor, denial of food, isolation, restraints, sexual assaults, and harassment.
Orphans and abandoned children, dependent on the state for care, may instead experience shocking and sometimes deadly levels of abuse and neglect in state-run institutions. They may be beaten, sexually abused, restrained in cloth sacks or tethered to furniture, and subjected to degrading treatment by staff. In some facilities, mortality rates have been staggering.
Child laborers are often physically abused by their employers. They may be beaten for working too slowly, making mistakes, arriving to work late, appearing tired, or simply as a means of intimidation.
In schools, many children regularly experience violence, suffering caning, slapping and whipping by teachers, discriminatory harassment or attacks by their peers, or sexual abuse by teachers or fellow students.
The Commission should:
Education, a right guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a critical component in securing the effective enjoyment of other rights, particularly civil and political rights. The deprivation of this fundamental right prevents children from realizing their full potential later in life and leaves individuals ill-equipped as adults to defend their rights and to secure these rights for their own children.
Those children who are able to attend school often find that their classrooms are sites of intolerance, discrimination, and violence instead of facilitating their healthy development and providing them with equal opportunities for education. In some cases, school officials fail to protect students from discriminatory harassment or attacks by classmates even though the officials know or should know of the risk of such abuses.In others, officials themselves participate in harassment or violence against particular youth because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, social group, or other status. Girls face particularly serious obstacles in school; gender-based violence—rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment—is chief among these obstacles, as our 2001 report on sexual violence against girls in South Africa found.
In many parts of the world, children from minorities and other socially disadvantaged groups are segregated in inferior educational programs that limit their opportunities for growth and restrict their access to higher education. In countries throughout Europe, Roma children, sometimes known as Gypsies, receive substandard education. In many countries of Asia and Africa, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Japan, children whose parents belong to lower-caste or other shunned descent-based social groups face widespread discrimination in access to education and have markedly lower literacy rates and school attendance rates than the general population. In India, Dalit children, also called “untouchables,” are largely segregated from others and restricted to the worst government schools, deficient in basic infrastructure, classrooms, teachers, and teaching aids. And Human Rights Watch’s research in 2001 found that Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are educated in a public school system that is wholly separate from the schools of the Jewish majority and inferior in virtually every respect—in per-pupil expenditures, classroom size, teacher-to-student ratio, and types of facilities available to students.
Noncitizen children are often denied any education at all when states set impossibly high barriers to education for refugee, asylum seeker, immigrant, and stateless children. For example, Human Rights Watch investigations have documented such barriers to education for Bidun children in Kuwait, Rohingya children in Malaysia, and the children of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
Finally, students in at least sixty-five countries may be subjected to corporal punishment, a disciplinary measure that violates international standards. Children are spanked, slapped, caned, strapped, or beaten by teachers as a result of misbehavior, poor academic performance, or sometimes for no reason at all. In our 1999 investigation of corporal punishment in Kenyan schools, Human Rights Watch found that the routine use of corporal punishment regularly resulted in bruises, cuts, and humiliation and in some cases injury or death.
The Commission should urge states to:
Over 60 million persons have been infected with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the pandemic, and the disease is the leading cause of death in Africa. Unlike many of history’s most destructive epidemics, HIV/AIDS preferentially claims the lives of adults in the prime of life. At least 15 million children under age 15 have lost their mother or both parents to HIV/AIDS, over 80 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that as many as 40 million children may be orphaned by AIDS by 2010. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is growing fastest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and very rapidly in South Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of the Caribbean.
HIV/AIDS is one of the most important threats to the rights of children in today’s world. Children orphaned by AIDS experience stigmatization, discrimination, marginalization and frequently abandonment by remaining family members. Even before a parent dies, children are unable to realize their right to education as they are forced to leave school to care for an ill family member or to contribute to the household’s labor or revenue. Human Rights Watch’s research in Kenya in 2001 corroborated the conclusion of other researchers across Africa that many orphans and other AIDS-affected children are forced into living on the street or taking up dangerous labor to survive. A cruel irony is that prostitution and therefore a high risk of exposure to HIV is too often among the only survival strategies for children orphaned by AIDS.
Legal and judicial protections for AIDS-affected children are highly inadequate in some of the countries with the most severe HIV/AIDS problems. In Kenya as in many African countries, the law assumes that the extended family can provide effective protection for orphans and other children bereft of parental care. HIV/AIDS, however, has decimated the extended family in country after country. Children’s courts and laws related to children have not caught up with the protections needed for millions of children who cannot rely on traditional support structures for basic care and are also stigmatized because of their association with HIV/AIDS. Children orphaned by AIDS and without easy legal recourse are particularly vulnerable to “property grabbing,” widely documented in Africa, by which children are denied the right to inherit the land or other property to which they are entitled.
A few countries with high HIV prevalence have begun to review their laws and policies with respect to orphans, but it is difficult to find an example of a national plan – let alone well-funded programs and policies – to protect the range of rights of children that are directly threatened by HIV/AIDS.
The Commission should:
In December 2001 states parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty, as the culmination of a year of global consultations on refugee protection issues. At the same time many of these countries, particularly key industrialized states, such as Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and other member states of the European Union, continue to violate core provisions of the Refugee convention. These governments and others have returned refugees to places where their lives or freedom are under threat, sometimes in a discriminatory manner; subjected asylum seekers to prolonged detention; and narrowly interpreted the legal definition of a refugee. States have also failed to comply with their obligations under the Convention to cooperate fully with UNHCR in its duty to supervise the implementation of the Convention. States currently interpret and implement the Convention in vastly inconsistent ways that often serve their own political interests, rather than protect the interests of refugees.
In international human rights and refugee law, states are prohibited from discriminating against refugees on the basis of their race, religion, or country of origin. Yet entry policies, asylum determination procedures, and treatment in host countries persistently discriminate against refugees of particular nationalities or ethnicities and can put them at risk of refoulement. Politicians and the media have also manipulated xenophobic fears through the negative portrayal of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, often for short-term political gain. The third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa recognized that xenophobia and discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers are some of the main sources of contemporary racism worldwide. There are few, if any, countries where refugees are free from discrimination.
The criminal attacks of September 11, 2001 have also been used as a pretext by many countries to discriminate against refugees and migrants and to introduce ever more restrictive immigration and asylum laws and policies. The anti-terrorism measures taken by some states, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, seriously erode core refugee protection standards. New anti-terrorism laws in the United States and the United Kingdom allow for the indefinite detention of non-citizens suspected of terrorism, including asylum seekers and recognized refugees, without adequate appeal rights. In both countries the new measures contain an overly broad and vague definition of terrorism that includes individuals with tenuous links to a terrorist organization, thus risking guilt by association. The U.K. bill excludes asylum seekers from refugee protection if they are suspected of terrorism, without any substantive investigation of their asylum application. This runs counter to UNHCR guidelines that asylum seekers should receive a full and fair examination of their asylum claim before they are excluded from refugee protection.
2001 also focused world attention on the plight of millions of Afghan refugees. Since 2000, Afghanistan’s neighbors have deported, pushed back, and rejected the majority of Afghan refugees attempting to flee a desperate situation inside Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan, which host the vast majority of the world’s Afghan refugees, have received little assistance from the international community and have closed their borders to new refugees. Afghan refugees in Pakistan are granted no legal status and are frequently abused by the authorities. They are subject to curfews, arbitrary detention, and are at times summarily deported. Iran also refuses to register any new refugees – they are forced to live without government assistance or legal status and face deportation at any time.
Return and reintegration for Afghan refugees poses enormous challenges. Refugees fear lawlessness, violence, and ethnic reprisals in areas controlled by rival warlords. For many, return to Afghanistan may be too traumatizing to bear. Refugees living in camps close to the border fear that they will be pushed back to Afghanistan before it is safe for them to go. Many fear that their homes will have been destroyed or occupied by others. It is essential that human rights monitors are on the ground in Afghanistan to observe the treatment of returning refugee and IDP populations and ensure that they are treated in accordance with international human rights law.
The Commission should urge:
In addition to the above thematic issues, we also urge the Commission to address specific human rights problems in several countries all over the world.
The international community has a critical role to play in ensuring that past human rights violations in Afghanistan are addressed, and in assisting the interim administration in Kabul, and its successors, in building institutions capable of providing lasting and effective human rights protections.In 2001, human rights abuses were committed by both Taliban and anti-Taliban forces. Before the September 11 terror attacks on the United States (U.S.), the main human rights concerns in Afghanistan were collective punishment by Taliban forces of civilians in areas that the opposition Northern Alliance (United Front) had briefly occupied or attempted to capture; systematic discrimination against women; harassment of international aid agency staff and other abuses; and continued arms supplies to parties responsible for human rights violations. Currently, there are serious concerns about the protection of millions of refugees and the internally displaced and the need to institute human rights safeguards for the future, including women’s rights. The Bonn Agreement of December 5, 2001, endorsed by Security Council resolution 1383 of December 6, 2001 and General Assembly resolution 56 of December 14, 2001, acknowledged the centrality of human rights in Afghanistan’s future, and it called upon the United Nations to assist Afghanistan’s interim authority and subsequent government in the promotion and protection of human rights. Human Rights Watch fully supports the Bonn Agreement and strongly endorses High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson’s plea that human rights be given a central role in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The creation of an interim administration in Kabul and the physical and institutional reconstruction of the country at large offer unique opportunities for human rights protections to be cemented into Afghanistan’s political and societal structures. But the opportunity will be lost if not seized. The Commission should support efforts to make human rights central to the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.
As noted above, egregious abuses, including massacres of civilians, have been committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban as well as by opposition groups, some of which now control various areas in Afghanistan.
Human Rights Watch has called for an internationally coordinated effort to ensure that individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan are ultimately held accountable. The U.N. High Commissioner has made a similar appeal. We urge the Commission to strongly support such efforts.
The Bonn agreement also calls for the establishment of an independent domestic human rights commission in the Afghan government. Human Rights Watch fully supports creation of a separate, domestic Afghan commission. However, this initiative will require sustained international financial support and assistance.
The Commission should support the future work of the domestic human rights commission.
The Commission should lend its support to efforts to ensure adequate protection and assistance for returning refugees and displaced persons in Afghanistan; to prioritize women’s rights, including implementation of international commitments on the inclusion of Afghan women as decision-makers in the reconstruction effort; to provide adequate resources for expanded programs for removal of landmines; and to assist orphaned children and the establishment of schools to ensure all Afghan children the right to education.
No progress has been achieved in locating or determining the fate of the thousands of Algerians who have "disappeared" at the hands of security forces since 1992. Government officials have disclosed little beyond often conflicting statistics that downplay the scope of the problem and attempt to portray the "disappeared" as persons who, for the most part, joined or were abducted by armed groups. Algerian organizations composed of families of the "disappeared" have documented well over 4,000 cases where there is evidence of security force involvement, most dating from the period 1993 to 1997. The government continues to decline to provide verifiable information about the cases it claims to have elucidated, making it impossible to check this information against cases compiled by Algerian lawyers and rights organizations, or to check with families whether the government has provided them with the same information concerning their loved ones.
We also wish to express our concern regarding Algeria’s continued refusal to respond to longstanding requests to visit the country by the U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Government officials have contended that Algeria's official reports to the Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies adequately fulfill the government's requirements in this regard, and that it is under no obligation to cooperate with what it has termed "secondary mechanisms" such as the special rapporteurs and working groups.
The Commission should urge the government of Algeria to disclose all information at its disposal regarding the status and whereabouts by name of all persons who went missing after being taken into state custody. The Commission should also remind Algeria of its special responsibility, as a member of the Commission, to respond positively to requests of the special mechanisms of the Commission, and in particular the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to conduct official visits to the country.
This year’s session of the Commission on Human Rights takes place at a pivotal moment for Colombians, who are electing a new president in the midst of sharply increased political violence. Continuing a disturbing trend from 2000, the average number of victims of political violence and deaths in combat has risen. This violence is increasingly urban and involves attacks on elected officials and government investigators as well as community leaders, human rights defenders, indigenous leaders, journalists and trade unionists. Colombians continue to flee their homes and even their country in record numbers, facing hunger, the elements, and disease in desperate efforts to save themselves and their families.
In the first ten months of 2001, the office of the Public Advocate (Defensoría del Pueblo) recorded 92 massacres, defined as the killing of three or more persons in the same place and at the same time. Most massacres were linked to paramilitary groups; others were committed by guerrillas. Both paramilitaries and guerrillas reportedly moved with ease throughout the country, including via helicopter.
Certain Colombian military units and police detachments continued to promote, work with, support, profit from, and tolerate paramilitary groups, treating them as a force allied to, and compatible with, their own. At their most brazen, these relationships involved active coordination during military operations between government and paramilitary units; communication via radios, cellular telephones, and beepers; the sharing of intelligence, including the names of suspected guerrilla collaborators; the sharing of fighters, including active-duty soldiers serving in paramilitary units and paramilitary commanders lodging on military bases; the sharing of vehicles, including army trucks used to transport paramilitary fighters; coordination of army roadblocks, which routinely let heavily-armed paramilitary fighters pass; and payments made from paramilitaries to military officers for their support.
Overall, President Andrés Pastrana and his defense ministers failed to take effective action to establish control over the security forces and break their persistent ties to paramilitary groups. Even as President Pastrana publicly deplored atrocities, the high-ranking officers he commanded failed to take necessary steps to prevent killings by suspending security force members suspected of abuses, ensuring that their cases were handed over to civilian judicial authorities for investigation and prosecution, and pursuing and arresting paramilitary leaders.
Paramilitaries allied under the umbrella United Self Defense Group of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) expanded their radius of action and troop strength in 2001. In some situations, as with the temporary seizure of a community of displaced people in Esperanza en Dios and Nueva Vida, Chocó, paramilitaries reportedly operated with as many as 800 troops at a time. Large concentrations of paramilitaries were rarely challenged by the Colombian security forces.
Guerrillas committed a rising number of violations of international humanitarian law, among them killings, the taking of hostages, and the recruitment of children. Evidence mounted that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) used the area of southern Colombia under its control not only to warehouse prisoners and kidnapped civilians, but also to plan and mount attacks, including assaults that caused civilian casualties. The FARC-EP frequently used indiscriminate weapons, specifically gas cylinder bombs.
Colombia continued to be dangerous for human rights defenders as well as for government investigators handling human rights and international humanitarian law investigations. In the first ten months of 2001, eleven defenders were killed. Paramilitaries intensified an announced campaign to murder prosecutors and investigators of cases that implicated paramilitary leaders. In that same period, seven government investigators were murdered by alleged paramilitary gunmen. The office in Colombia of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called these killings “a systematic campaign of retaliation and intimidation” by those seeking “total impunity for the most serious crimes committed in the country.”
Some government offices attempted to protect threatened defenders, supplying bodyguards, bulletproof reinforcement for offices, and an emergency response network operated by handheld radios. In many instances, however, the government’s response was slow, nonexistent, or abusive.
Human Rights Watch urges the Commission to:
U.N. member states should also pledge increased financial support to the Colombia office of the High Commissioner, in particular to make it possible for the office staff to travel frequently throughout the country.
The Commission's failure last year to hold China accountable for serious, widespread violations of internationally-recognized human rights was a major setback for the body's credibility. Despite its ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in February 2001 and ongoing technical cooperation with the High Commissioner’s office, the Chinese government has made no significant progress to improve its human rights performance.Over the past year, the Chinese government's preoccupation with stability in the face of continued social and economic upheaval has fuelled an increase in human rights violations. Beijing has taken steps to limit free expression by arresting academics, and closing newspapers and magazines. It has continued its intense crackdown on Falun Gong and unofficial religious groups of all kinds, imprisoning thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and using torture and psychological pressure to force recantations. Through the massive "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign launched in April 2001, Chinese officials have conducted thousands of arbitrary arrests and summary executions, circumventing legal safeguards for criminal suspects and alleged separatists, terrorists, and so-called religious extremists. During the first month of the campaign alone, some 10,000 people were arrested and at least 500 executed.Ethnic minorities, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet, have been the targets of serious abuses. China has tried to justify its broad denial of basic freedoms in Xinjiang—carefully documented by Human Rights Watch and other monitors—on counter-terrorism grounds. The Commission should firmly reject the Chinese government's cynical attempt to use the international anti-terrorist agenda for domestic political purposes.Stringent new regulations on Internet use came into effect this past year, imposing censorship on bulletin board services and chat rooms, and requiring general portal sites to obtain their news solely from state-controlled media. More than 300,000 Internet police are charged with enforcement. A new regulation made it a capital crime to send secret or "reactionary" material over the Internet. At least sixteen people were arrested or sentenced in 2001 for using the Internet to transmit information or express views considered subversive by the government.Though legal experts continued to professionalize the legal system, no action has been taken to abolish the arbitrary system of administrative detention or reeducation through labor, as recommended by the U.N. High Commissioner and other U.N. experts.We urge the Commission to condemn the serious, systematic violations of human rights in China; request the Chinese government to take significant steps to comply with its commitments to respect internationally recognized human rights; and call on Chinese authorities to fully implement the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, as well as other UN human rights experts.
Another country of concern is Cuba, whose government has not moderated its arbitrary and repressive practices. In Cuba, human rights defenders, independent journalists, peaceful opponents of the government, and members of unofficial nongovernmental organizations are frequently subject to short-term detentions, house arrest, surveillance, arbitrary searches, evictions, travel restrictions, politically-motivated dismissals from employment, threats, and other forms of harassment. Some are prosecuted under provisions of the Cuban Criminal Code that restrict basic rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and of the press.
Among those currently incarcerated are Vladimiro Roca and Oscar Elías Biscet González. Roca, a member of the Internal Dissidents Working Group (Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna, GTDI), was sentenced in March 1999 to five years’ imprisonment for “acts against the security of the state.” His prosecution stemmed from the views the GTDI expressed in The Homeland Belongs to All (La Patria es de Todos), an analytical paper on the Cuban economy, human rights, and democracy. Biscet, the president of the Lawton Human Rights Foundation, received a three-year prison sentence on February 25, 2000, for dishonoring patriotic symbols, public disorder, and instigating delinquency. He had carried out public protests that included turning the Cuban flag upside-down and carrying anti-abortion placards.
The authorities maintained strict controls on the press, barring local independent news coverage and taking steps to limit foreign reporting. As of November, independent journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, director of the news agency Linea Sur Press, remained behind bars, having been denied conditional release. He was serving a six-year sentence for “insulting” President Castro, imposed in November 1997.
The government recognized only one labor union, the Worker’s Central of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC). Independent labor unions were denied formal status and their members were harassed. Workers employed in businesses backed by foreign investment remained under tight government control. Under restrictive labor laws, the authorities had a prominent role in the selection, payment, and dismissal of workers, effectively denying workers the right to bargain directly with employers over benefits, promotions, and wages.
The Commission should:
With the accession of Joseph Kabila as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hopes were raised in January 2001 for an end to the disastrous war that has cost more than two million lives. Belligerents this year implemented some terms of the 1999 Lusaka Accords meant to end the war: troops disengaged along the front lines, some Ugandan and Rwandan government soldiers returned home, some 1,500 Rwandan rebels laid down their arms, and United Nations troops (U.N. Organization Mission in Congo, MONUC) began monitoring compliance with the accord. But late in the year fighting still raged almost daily in the eastern provinces, and the inter-Congolese dialogue among Congolese actors about the future of their country was suspended days after it began. The DRC government, supported by Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, controlled the western half of the country. Rebel movements, the most important being the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), backed by Rwanda, and RCD-Kisangani and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), both backed by Uganda, controlled the east. Mai-Mai militia hostile to all foreign presence generally benefited from the support of the DRC government.
Throughout eastern DRC armed men from various governmental and rebel forces have raped and otherwise sexually tortured thousands of women and girls. Women are raped when armed men attack their homes, or when they are in their fields or on the road. Sometimes they are also taken hostage. Some of the most horrific acts of violence include cutting out women’s unborn babies and shooting into the vagina. During a recent visit to eastern DRC, Human Rights Watch found that there was complete impunity for such crimes, and that health services are mostly inaccessible for surviving victims despite their very likely exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. All parties to the war also abduct and recruit children to be trained and deployed as soldiers, as members of local militia or civil defense forces, or as workers attached to military units.
Both U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council devoted much attention to ending the DRC war during 2001 and frequently denounced human rights abuses and the humanitarian crisis spawned by it. Yet the council hesitated to commit significant resources to a war whose end was not yet sure. It voted in February of that year in resolution 1341 to deploy only 2,300 MONUC troops, about half the number originally foreseen. Although the resolution condemned war-related atrocities and reminded all parties that they were obligated to protect civilians, it gave no mandate for civilian protection to MONUC.
In addressing the council in late May 2001, the secretary-general spoke of the importance of accountability for past crimes in establishing a lasting peace in the region. The council extended the mandate for MONUC for a year in mid-June and itself affirmed in resolution 1355 the importance of accountability. In his mid-October report to the Security Council, the secretary-general denounced human rights abuses in some detail and again called for accountability in the DRC. The council's adoption of resolution 1376 in November launched phase III of MONUC, requiring the demilitarization of Kisangani, the restoration of freedom of movement throughout the country, and the full cooperation of the belligerents with MONUC's activities.
Roberto Garretón, then special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DRC, issued damning reports on abuses by government and rebels alike after his two missions to DRC in March and June 2001. During his tenure, he briefed the Security Council several times on abuses in the DRC and in the speech marking the end of his tenure he too called for accountability for past crimes in the DRC. The Field Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has continued to play a prominent role in monitoring conditions in the country, assisting government reform initiatives and supporting local rights groups.
We urge the Commission to:
Specifically, the Commission should press for the establishment of a U.N. Commission of Experts to investigate and determine responsibility for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the DRC, including sexual and gender based violence. This would implement a key 1998 recommendation of the Secretary-General's Investigative Team in the DRC (SGIT) but also serve to address and perhaps help halt on-going atrocities. The temporal mandate of the Commission of Experts should thus reach back to 1993 to complete the work the SGIT was prevented from doing and continue to the present. The commission should build upon the expertise and knowledge of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DRC, as well as on other governmental and nongovernmental sources. The Commission of Experts could also recommend to the Security Council an appropriate mechanism to bring to justice persons responsible for violations.
The human rights situation under the government of President Husni Mubarak was marked by widespread infringements of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The government crackdown on human rights activists in particular resulted in the Supreme State Security Court conviction of Saadeddin Ibrahim, director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, on spurious charges of accepting funding without authorization and disseminating information damaging to Egypt’s stature. Twenty-seven codefendants were also convicted in the case. Under the state of emergency in effect for nearly forty years with little interruption, the government blatantly interfered with the ability of citizens to exercise basic political rights by arresting suspected dissidents at will, holding them without trial for indefinite periods, and referring civilians to state security courts or military courts whose procedures were grossly unfair.
Egyptians continue to be subjected to routine torture and ill-treatment while under interrogation at police stations. Victims of torture have no effective remedy and little opportunity for redress: most apply for and are granted financial compensation from civil courts, but very few victims can convince the authorities to institute criminal proceedings against their torturers. In the handful of such cases reaching the courts in recent years, almost all resulted in acquittals or derisory punishments. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, in his January 2001 report to the Commission, cited thirty-two cases of deaths in custody between 1997 and 1999, apparently as a result of torture. Three deaths in custody were reported between January and July 2001.
In the aftermath of September 11, the government ordered some 285 suspected Islamists to be tried in three separate cases before the Supreme Military Court, despite their civilian status. Many had been reportedly imprisoned for years without trial. President Hosni Mubarak, citing the United States decision to establish special military tribunals to try captured suspected terrorists, asserted recently that “there is no doubt that the eventsOf September 11 created a new concept of democracy, that differs from the concept that Western states defended before these events, especially in regard to the freedom of the individual.”We call on the Commission to urge the government of Egypt to:
The new administration of Megawati Sukarnoputri has yet to effectively deal with Indonesia's serious human rights problems. Building greater respect for human rights is crucial to Indonesia's difficult transition to democracy.
Indonesia has made little progress on holding perpetrators of past abuses accountable, while new instances of extrajudicial executions and disappearances continue with impunity. Important legislation on human rights mechanisms have been delayed and undermined, and unfair trials based on Soeharto-era legislation have made a comeback.
The province of Aceh saw an increase in military operations last year, and an accompanying rise in civilian casualties. The deaths, passing 1300 last year, were largely due to army actions, but with responsibility falling on the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) as well. The arrest of non-violent political activists leaves Acehnese few avenues to express their views peacefully. Peace talks have been fruitless, further hampered by the arrest of GAM negotiators and prospects for peace in 2002 looked grim: there has already been an announcement of the restoration of a separate military command for the province, and promise of a shoot-to-kill policy in response to a transport strike called for by GAM. There is some indication that Indonesia is using the war on terrorism as an excuse to harden its position against the Muslim separatists.
In the easternmost province of Papua, the government continues to respond to aspirations for independence, even when peaceful, with arbitrary arrest and torture. In many cases, security authorities continue to use indiscriminate or excessive force against demonstrators, notwithstanding promises of improvement under new autonomy legislation enacted in 2001. The murder of Theys Eluay on November 10, 2001, believed by many to be the work of army special forces branch Kopassus, remains in need of a full and independent investigation. If the government is to re-establish trust in Papua, it
should work seriously to see justice done for atrocities of the Soeharto era, as well as for more recent cases of egregious abuse, such as the killing of students in Abepura in December 2000.
Conflict between ethnic and religious groups has resulted in continuing civilian casualties in Central Kalimantan, Maluku, and most recently Central Sulawesi. In the latter two places, communal violence surged after the arrival of a radical Muslim group, with inadequate response by security forces or the legal system. A December 20, 2001 peace agreement in Sulawesi is in need of careful monitoring, as disarmament and rehabilitation of destroyed communities begins.
The justice system is in shambles, with many opportunities for greater accountability in danger of being lost. Unclear jurisdiction and criteria for the permanent and ad hoc human rights courts now being set up and for a proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission may allow many human rights abusers to escape prosecution altogether. The human rights courts, while apparently moving forward, have yet to begin operation and may be hampered by judges with limited training in human rights, and by a high threshold for jurisdiction. As currently designed, the ad hoc courts for past abuses may well end up overlooking some of the worst crimes and most culpable perpetrators.
The Indonesia National Human Rights Commission, or Komnas-HAM, has lost much of its effectiveness, with vacancies left unfilled and investigations stalled or collecting dust. The diminishing utility of this mechanism for truth and accountability increases the burden on domestic non-governmental organizations to bring abuses to light, even as they are under attack. At least six human rights monitors were killed in Aceh between November 2000 and October 2001, and no progress was made this past year in the inquiry into the death of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, a human rights lawyer killed in September 2000.
Despite hopes of democratization following the fall of Soeharto, little progress has been made in ending impunity and securing greater human rights protections in Indonesia. The Commission should urge Indonesia to cooperate with thematic mechanisms of the Commission such as the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The precarious position of NGO activists in Indonesia should receive urgent attention. Indonesia should be encouraged to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to Indonesia.
The UN must also maintain pressure on Indonesia to honor its pledge to provide justice to the people of East Timor. Preparations for the ad hoc court to try suspects for the 1999 Timor violence have been painfully slow, while poor cooperation with UNTAET has hampered progress within the territory of East Timor. While displaced people remain a problem throughout the archipelago, the plight of the estimated 50,000 East Timorese still in West Timor stand out as a particularly egregious example of Indonesia's failure to undo the damage of the scorched earth campaign of 1999, especially after the highly suspect registration process in 2001. The need for the international community to ensure justice in this case is especially clear given the role the U.N. played in the referendum process, the killings of local U.N. staff and hundreds of East Timorese who trusted U.N. pledges of protection, and the recommendation of the U.N.'s own experts that the U.N. establish an international tribunal should Indonesia prove incapable of doing justice.
The Commission should condemn the gross human rights violations in Indonesia, including continuing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and torture in Aceh and Papua.
Despite another landslide electoral victory for candidates associated with the cause of political reform, Iran's year since the 57th session of the Commission has been marked by further severe human rights setbacks. Most of the remaining independent publications, for years the most visible sign of human rights progress, have been closed down and leading journalists, editors and publishers are among the reform leaders imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Conservatives in control of the judiciary and the security services have resorted increasingly to punitive and intimidatory tactics, including public executions and public flogging. Religious minorities, notably Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims, remain subject to discrimination and persecution. Iran’s Baha’i community continued to be the target of intense persecution.
The Commission should renew the mandate of the Special Representative on human rights in Iran. We also urge the Commission to call upon the government of Iran to grant the Special Representative access to the country in accordance with his repeated requests.
Continuing clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have generated a human rights crisis of extraordinary gravity, one marked by a fundamental disregard for the standards of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some 700 Palestinians and nearly 200 Israelis have been killed since September 2000, the great majority of them civilians. Thousands more have been gravely wounded.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern in which Israeli security forces used excessive and indiscriminate force during clashes with unarmed demonstrators, and also when returning fire from armed Palestinians. Human Rights Watch has also documented unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli security forces. The impact of such incidents is aggravated by the Israeli government’s refusal to investigate these and other suspicious killings undertaken as part of its policy of “liquidating” Palestinians allegedly responsible for planning or carrying out attacks on Israeli soldiers or civilians. Both international humanitarian and human rights law require the investigation of unlawful killings, even in times of armed conflict.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority has done little to prevent armed attacks against Israeli civilians or punish the perpetrators of such acts. Human Rights Watch has documented the arbitrary arrest by Palestinian security forces of hundreds of alleged Palestinian “collaborators,” many of whom have been tortured and held in prolonged detention without trial.
Since the Commission last met, Israel has intensified its policy of “closures,” imposing harsh and protracted restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. These policies of collective punishment have contributed to massive losses of income and often impeded Palestinian access to civilian necessities including medical care, education, and basic foodstuffs. According to the office of the U.N. Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, the twelve-month period ending in September 2001 saw losses to the Palestinian economy of between U.S. $2.4 billion and $3.2 billion and a thirty-seven percent average decline in real income. The UNSCO report said that forty-six percent of the Palestinian population was living below the poverty line, twice the pre-intifada figure. Land confiscation for settlement expansion and bypass roads and punitive destruction of Palestinian property adjacent to settlements appears to be increasing. These abuses are well-documented by the new Special Rapporteur in his interim report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories (A/56/440).
We would like to call your attention to the Declaration of the December 2001 meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reaffirmed the obligations of the Parties to respect and ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions, as well as the full applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. We further note that the High Contracting Parties explicitly encouraged the “deployment of independent and impartial observers to monitor, inter alia, breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention as a protection and confidence building measure, with the aim to ensure the effectiveness of humanitarian rules.”
The Declaration, like the language of the Commission’s own resolutions on the Occupied Territories, will have limited utility unless it enhances protections for civilians on the ground.
We, therefore, ask all members of the Commission, bearing in mind their simultaneous obligations as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, to:
Russia’s actions in Chechnya took on a new significance in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Since the beginning of the conflict in September 1999, the Russian government had labeled its military and police actions a counter terrorist operation. When it became a key ally in the post-September 11 anti-terror coalition, too often governments were unwilling to use the stated goal of Russia’s efforts in Chechnya to avoid scrutinizing its methods.
The 57th Commission adopted a resolution that condemned terrorist acts in Chechnya, as well as the methods employed by Russian forces—including forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture. It called upon the Russian government to undertake “systematic, credible, and exhaustive criminal investigations and prosecutions of all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights,” in particular those perpetrated by Russia’s forces in Chechnya. The resolution also called for the establishment of “a national, broad-based and independent commission of inquiry to investigate promptly alleged violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law;” for OSCE deployment to the region, and for visits to the region by relevant U.N. special mechanisms. The resolution followed the parameters of a similar resolution adopted by the 56th Commission.
Russia has blatantly resisted implementation of both resolutions, challenging the authority and credibility of the Commission and the U.N. human rights mechanisms. In June, the OSCE returned to the region, though the degree to which it is able to engage in meaningful human dimension activities remains unclear. The government has pointedly not invited the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who would issue authoritative reports on some of the most serious abuses in the conflict. In addition, the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons is still waiting for an invitation. While the government had last year issued invitations to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Representative of the Secretary General for children and armed conflict, it also informed these thematic mechanisms that their visits could only take place “in general exercise” of their mandates and not in connection with the resolution. No visits have taken place, however. To date, the Russian government has not agreed on a date for the visit of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. The importance of visits by the thematic mechanisms cannot be overstated. Because no independent national commission of inquiry into abuse in Chechnya has been established, their reports constitute the only hope of an official record of the atrocities that have been perpetrated in this conflict.
Russia has failed to establish a meaningful accountability process, as required by the Resolution. Of the 358 cases under investigation as of May, eleven have been brought to trial, resulting in five active prison sentences. The majority of investigations by the military procuracy, the only agency authorized to investigate abuses by Ministry of Defense servicemen, have been suspended, closed, or referred to ineffectual local law enforcement agencies. Few investigations relate to torture, summary execution, and arbitrary detention--the main abuses perpetrated in this conflict. Nearly all investigations into forced disappearances have been suspended.
Not a single high-level commander has had to answer for atrocities. The high-profile trial of Yuri Budanov, a former colonel and tank commander charged with abducting and murdering an eighteen-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000, has been an exception, yet recent developments in the case indicate that he too may join the long list of those who continue to enjoy impunity for crimes committed in Chechnya. According to press reports, recent psychiatric exams conducted on Budanov found that he was in an acute state of distress at the time of the murder. This finding makes him eligible for amnesty if convicted.
Meanwhile, severe violations of human rights continue. Sweep operations by Russian forces have resulted in dozens of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, widespread use of torture and ill-treatment, thousands of cases of arbitrary detention, as well as large-scale extortion, looting, and destruction of civilian property.
Human Rights Watch calls upon the Commission to adopt a resolution condemning ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya; noting the failure on the part of the Russian government to implement the CHR’s previous resolutions; and noting the inadequacy of the domestic prosecutorial efforts, establishing an international commission of inquiry, mandated to investigate and document atrocities committed by both sides to the conflict in Chechnya. Such an international commission should be impartial and independent and operate in a manner consistent with the general principles outlined by High Commissioner Mary Robinson in her April 2000 background note on national commissions of inquiry.
Three agreements between the Sierra Leonean government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) contributed to an improvement in the human rights situation in Sierra Leone in 2001. The first, signed in Abuja, Nigeria in November 2000, led to a ceasefire. The second and third agreements, signed in May 2001, committed both parties to restart the disarmament process, provided for the reestablishment of government authority in former rebel held areas, and for the release of all child combatants and abductees. Military pressure on the RUF by both the Guinean army, which responded to RUF cross-border raids by launching ground and air attacks into Sierra Leone, and the British-trained and led Sierra Leonean army, contributed to this process. Over 17,500 United Nations peacekeepers deployed into RUF strongholds, including the diamond-rich Kono District, and over 29,300 combatants were disarmed. The release of over 3,000 child soldiers, abductees, and separated children by the RUF and by pro-government civil defense militias was one of the most positive human rights developments of the year. However, serious violations, which often involved victims and perpetrators not only from Sierra Leone but also from neighboring Liberia and Guinea, were persistent and served to highlight the region’s conflicts. The government extended its own mandate, but announced that elections due in 2001 would take place on May 14, 2002.
The human rights picture within RUF-held areas improved somewhat relative to previous years. Some RUF commanders attempted to discipline combatants who committed abuses. Nevertheless, RUF forces, often acting together with Liberian government troops, committed scores of serious abuses including rape, murder, abduction, and subjection to forced labor. The victims of these abuses included Sierra Leoneans returning from refugee camps in Guinea; Guinean civilians, attacked during a campaign of cross-border raids from September 2000 through April 2001; and Liberians fleeing renewed fighting in Lofa county from April 2001. The RUF abducted at least one hundred Guineans, including children and the elderly, and held them in Kailahun for up to five months. UNHCR and other aid agencies were on a few occasions refused permission to evacuate sick and severely malnourished refugees.
Within government-controlled areas, pro-government militias committed numerous human rights violations with impunity. There were numerous cases of sexual assault by Kamajor militiamen, including gang rape and the rape of children. Members of civil defense militias returning from refugee camps in Guinea through RUF-held areas attacked, looted, and burned several villages, and in June massacred at least twenty-two civilians, including nine children, in Yiriai village, in northern Koinadugu District, in what was the worst single atrocity of the year.
Security Council Resolution 1346, passed in March 2001, mandated that UNAMSIL’s troop strength be increased from 13,000, to 17,500. At regular U.N.-chaired meetings between the RUF and the Sierra Leonean government, UNAMSIL failed to aggressively interpret the part of its mandate that allowed for the protection of civilians or to emphasize concerns regarding ongoing violations against civilians. Members of the UNAMSIL human rights section were, for most of the year, not allowed to attend these meetings. The number of UNAMSIL human rights monitors—mandated in 2000 to be fourteen—was in mid-2001 increased to twenty by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, but as of this writing, the unit never operated with more than fifteen.
On August 14, 2000, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1315, which authorized the Secretary-General to enter into negotiations with the government of Sierra Leone to establish a Special Court for Sierra Leone, using both international and Sierra Leonean law, judges, and prosecutors, to bring the perpetrators of the most serious violations since 1996 to justice. At this writing, the draft statute for the court was yet to be finalized and, despite considerable efforts on the part of the Secretary-General, funds for its operation were yet to be secured. On July 24, 2001, the Security Council approved the plans to go ahead with the Special Court despite a shortfall of one million U.S. dollars for the first year and forty million U.S. dollars for the next two years. A Sierra Leonean government proposal that the temporal jurisdiction of the court be extended back to 1991, the commencement of the war, was not supported.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission to:
Although Sudan was reelected to its seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April 2001, reports by the special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan to the commission in April and to the General Assembly in October warned that human rights in Sudan were worsening in many respects, and that oil development was exacerbating the conflict.
The government kept in force a state of emergency to suppress opposition to the ruling Islamist party. The most severe abuses occurred in the civil war fought in the south, the central Nuba Mountains, and the east. The government was increasingly aggressive in pursuing the eighteen-year civil war, particularly in southern oil fields where its militias and army forcibly displaced thousands of residents. They continued to starve, abduct, rape, and kill civilians outright—while burning and bombing, villages, churches, hospitals, and schools. Government use of new, heavier arms, including surface-to-surface missiles and helicopter gunships took a toll on the civilian population.
Government army and militia forces continued to abduct women and children during ongoing raids in the south, mostly in northern Bahr El Ghazal and often in connection with the military train they accompanied to Wau, a garrison town. The government admitted that abductors, even from among their own forces, were not prosecuted, although it announced in November 2001 its intention to set up a tribunal to try the abductors.
The rebel forces also engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, looting of civilian property such as cows and grain, summary executions, forced conscription and portering, abductions, and rape. Although the largest rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), demobilized more than 3,000 child soldiers, many more remained in its forces and in the forces of the other rebel groups. Many gang rapes by SPLA soldiers in Western Upper Nile were reportedly committed in February 2001.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission to:
Human Rights Watch is seriously concerned about new measures implemented by the Bush administration to detain people as part of its investigation into the September 11 attacks. The U.S. Justice Department reported that 563 people were in custody on immigration charges and 60 on federal criminal charges as of December 6, while an undisclosed number may be detained on related state or local criminal charges. Despite a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent lawsuit filed by human rights groups against the government to obtain information, U.S. officials have refused to disclose the names or detention locations of most of the detainees. Human Rights Watch has been denied access to detainees at three facilities (two in New York City, one in the state of New Jersey) by U.S. officials. Members of the media and other human rights groups have encountered similar obstacles in their attempts to interview detainees and to check on their treatment in custody.
New rules issued by the Justice Department allow for the indefinite detention of non-citizens, as does new legislation allowing the president to certify non-citizens as "terrorists" using broad and vague criteria. Under the new regulations, the government can detain foreign nationals without charging them for any violation or crime for an undefined "reasonable period of time" in "the event of an emergency or other extraordinary circumstance." In addition, a detainee who cannot be removed to his country of origin can be held indefinitely if the Attorney General determines that his "release is likely to have serious adverse foreign policy consequences" or "presents a significant threat to the national security or a significant risk of terrorism." Another new rule allows the Justice Department to detain non-citizens who have been ordered release by an immigration judge, even when that order is upheld by an appellate court. These three rules circumvent judicial review of government actions.
One area of particular concern is the detainees’ lack of access to legal counsel. Detainees have reported that officials questioned them before they were told they could try to obtain legal counsel. Some detainees were held for days before they were able to use a telephone to try to obtain assistance, and others were allowed 15-minute calls once a week, making it difficult to find an attorney to take their case. Lawyers have also reported that their clients have been transferred without notification and that they have had trouble finding their clients as a result. As it is, outside monitors have no way to know whether detainees have adequate access to counsel, since locating the detainees has been unnecessarily difficult. In addition, officials have failed to inform detainees of their right to contact their consular officers.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned by reports of physical attacks against non-citizens arrested as part of the September 11 investigation. In two reported cases, detainees were beaten by American inmates at county jails once it was rumored the non-citizens were held in relation to the September 11 investigations. Many more detainees have reported verbal abuse and harassment while detained. Other reported problems have included poor medical care, being locked in cells for 24 hours a day, abusive or coercive interrogation practices, inability to adhere to religious dietary obligations, and significant language barriers, especially when the detainees have been placed in remote local jails.
In addition, hundreds of captured Taliban and al-Qaeda are being detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in small cages with chain-link sides, concrete floors and metal roofs. The cages offer scant shelter from wind and rain. The United States government has refused to treat these detainees as presumptive prisoners of war, as required by the Third Geneva Convention, and has refused to set up tribunals to determine whether any are, in fact, entitled to prisoner of war status.
Human Rights Watch urges the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to request permission to visit detainees in custody in relation to the September 11 attacks, as well as those held on Guantanamo Naval base, to determine whether they are being treated humanely and in accordance with international law. We urge the United States to invite the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to undertake such a visit.
Now a crucial partner in the international coalition against terrorism, the government of Uzbekistan remains one of the most repressive in Central Asia. Like Russia, it has used the threat of terrorism to justify persistent repression. The Uzbek government does not tolerate independent political parties or social movements, and maintains tight control over all media and other forms of expression. Dissidents and rights activists who sought to expose abuses face harassment, imprisonment, and torture; in 2001, one human rights advocate died in custody, apparently from torture. State agents routinely torture those in custody, and at least five people died in custody under highly suspicious circumstances in 2001.
Throughout the past four years, the government of President Islam Karimov has systematically persecuted Muslims who practice their faith beyond state controls. It unlawfully arrests and detains people who pray in mosques not run by the government, who belong to Islamic groups not registered with the government, who possess Islamic literature not generated by the government, or who meet privately for prayer or Islamic study, singling them out for nothing more than the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs.
The government contends that the affected persons are prosecuted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms because of their intent to overthrow the state or commit acts of terror. But of the thousands who have been detained, harassed, tortured, and imprisoned, only very few have been charged with specific violent acts; even more rarely have the authorities produced credible evidence to support charges of the use or advocacy of violence.
Judges use coerced testimony in patently unfair trials to convict independent Muslims on charges of distributing religious literature, membership in illegal religious organizations, or “anti-constitutional activity.” Under a publicly announced policy, families are held accountable for the actions of relatives suspected of illegal religious activity; consequently, they are often detained, held as hostages, threatened with torture, or are themselves tortured. Local governments mobilize their communities in “hate rallies,” reminiscent of the Stalin era, to intimidate and ostracize those suspected of affiliation with independent Muslims.
The government’s campaign against independent Muslims has far exceeded the bounds of legitimate security measures to enforce the law and to counter terrorism and other violence. In doing so it is in clear violation of international human rights standards, particularly the right to freedom of religion. But because the government does not tolerate free media of any kind, genuine opposition political parties, or most independent human rights organizations, accountability for these massive violations and hope for improvements, however incremental, rests solely with the international community. Moreover, the scale of the human rights crisis in Uzbekistan requires sustained attention, in addition to the periodic engagement that may be possible through the work of the High Commissioner or the special mechanisms.
Human Rights Watch reiterates its call on the Commission to
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