Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about several human rights situations that have either been inadequately addressed by this Council, or on which the Council has remained largely silent.
Bangladesh has taken an ever-increasing turn to authoritarianism in recent years. The authorities have engaged in mass arrests of opposition members – numbering in the thousands – and have cracked down on civil society groups, opposition media houses, editors, and journalists. Impunity for the security forces remains the norm, as alleged abuses by government forces go unchecked. The government’s initial response to the machete killings of over 50 people was to warn these victims to exercise self-censorship, even going so far as to prosecute four bloggers for “hurting religious sentiment.” In the past week, the authorities have taken a more determined turn in responding to these killings, but instead of investigating and prosecuting in a careful, measured manner, have fallen back on old patterns and arrested 15,000 people, many, it seems, arbitrarily. We urge Member States to raise this concerning situation at the Council and directly with the government.
In Ethiopia, state security forces have killed more than 400 protesters since November 2015, during largely peaceful protests in its largest region of Oromia. Many of those killed were students. Tens of thousands of people have been detained, and many of those remain in detention without charge. More broadly, Ethiopia continues to criminalize peaceful expression of dissent through severe restrictions on independent media, independent civil society, and misuse of its antiterrorism law. Torture and ill-treatment in detention continues to be a serious concern. We call for an independent and impartial investigation into the use of excessive force and other serious abuses by security forces in Oromia. As a Human Rights Council member – and vice-president – Ethiopia is required to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. Yet it has not accepted requests by numerous Special Procedures to visit over the past decade. We urge the government to do so as a matter of priority.
In Thailand, since the military coup in May 2014, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has carried out policies and actions without any effective oversight or accountability. A current draft constitution, written by a junta-appointed committee, endorses unaccountable military domination of governance even after a new government takes office. Regardless of its pledges to respect human rights, the junta—led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha—has banned political activity and public gatherings; made expression subject to criminal prosecution; conducted hundreds of arbitrary arrests; and held civilian detainees in military detention. Public debates and open opposition to the draft constitution, on which a referendum is scheduled for August 7, 2016, are prohibited. Military courts are regularly used to try civilians, particularly dissidents and alleged lese majeste offenders. In southern border provinces, serious abuses by all sides continue unabated in the fighting between separatist groups and security forces. The killing and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders and other activists, as well as reprisals via politically motivated criminal litigation, remain a pressing concern across Thailand. Millions of migrant workers face systematic abuse. Asylum seekers, having no legal avenue to bring their claims, are subject to arrest and deportation.
Finally, the armed conflict in Yemen has been marked by serious violations of international law and an absence of accountability. The Saudi-led coalition has carried out numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial attacks. Human Rights Watch alone documented 43 airstrikes that killed more than 670 civilians and 16 attacks involving indiscriminate cluster munitions. The Houthis and allied forces have fired weapons indiscriminately into civilian areas, recruited children, and laid anti-personnel landmines. The conflict has taken a terrible toll, with more than 3,500 civilians killed and 82 percent of the population needing humanitarian assistance. The Human Rights Council should establish an international mechanism to investigate violations by all parties to the conflict.