Human Rights Watch News en UN Slashes Food Rations for Rohingya in Bangladesh Camps Click to expand Image Rohingya refugees collect boxes of food aid at a distribution point in the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 14, 2018. © 2018 Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images <p>On Thursday, the United Nations World Food Programme dealt Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh a new round of deep cuts in food rations, from US$12 per month several months ago to just $8 a month, building pressure to return to dangerous conditions in Myanmar.  </p> <p>UN special rapporteurs warned that the cuts will have the “devastatingly predictable” consequence of “spiking rates of acute malnutrition, infant mortality, violence, and even death.” Some refugees, they said, might be compelled to “risk their lives at sea, [rather] than to face hunger and even death in the camps.”   </p> <p>These food ration cuts, along with escalating restrictive measures imposed by Bangladesh authorities and violence in the squalid, overcrowded refugee camps, are increasing pressure on the refugees to repatriate. </p> <p>This is not the first time slashes in food rations have accompanied other pressures on Rohingya refugees to leave.</p> <p>In 1978, the Bangladesh government weaponized food to force starving Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, which remained intent on persecuting them. Then, as now, the Rohingya refugees were confined to camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area and were not allowed to work, so they depended on food rations to survive.  </p> <p>A 1979 report by Alan C. Lindquist, then-head of the UN Refugee Agency’s Sub-office in Cox’s Bazar quoted Bangladesh’s then-secretary of the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation, Syed All Khasru, as saying, “It is all very well to have fat, well-fed refugees. But …we are not going to make the refugees so comfortable that they won’t go back to Burma [Myanmar].”</p> <p>The Lindquist report said that by December 1978 between 80 and 85 people were dying daily in Bangladesh’s camps. “More and more showed themselves ready to go back to escape the terrible conditions in the Bangladesh camps,” Lindquist wrote. “From November 15th onwards, at least 2,000 were returning every three days, the maximum rate specified in the July [1978] agreement between the two countries.” </p> <p>By the end of March 1979, more than 107,000 Rohingya had returned to Myanmar – and more than 11,900 had died.</p> <p>This time around, the World Food Programme, facing donor shortfalls, is making the cuts. International donors, no less than Bangladesh, have a responsibility not to repeat history. Myanmar is far from safe for Rohingya.  </p> <p>But Bangladesh should also ease restrictions and allow refugees to earn money to buy food and help prevent another horrible death toll. </p> Fri, 02 Jun 2023 16:06:15 -0400 Human Rights Watch Angola Police Violently Disperse Street Traders’ Protest Click to expand Image Street vendors serve customers in Luanda, Angola, August 20, 2022.  © 2022 Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko <p>by Iracelma Adriano, Intern, Africa Division</p> <p>The Angolan authorities have once again used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse a peaceful protest, this time by women street traders, in Angola’s capital, Luanda.</p> <p>Last week, about 400 women vendors, known locally as zungueiras, gathered to march from the local Sao Paulo market to the Luanda governor’s official residence to protest the city’s decision to reorganize informal street markets in some areas of the capital.</p> <p>Instead of clearing traffic and helping the marchers to proceed in safety, the police met them halfway with dogs and, without warning, fired tear gas at the crowd. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that several people, including protesters and bystanders, were injured as they ran away from the tear gas and officers beating them with batons.  </p> <p>Successive Angolan governments have a long history of abuses against street traders. In 2013, Human Rights Watch documented how local authorities and security forces mistreated vendors, including women with children, during operations to force them off the streets. In 2019, a police officer shot dead a woman during a heated argument as she tried to reclaim her seized goods. Last year, a police officer killed another woman during an argument between street vendors and Luanda trade inspectors.</p> <p>The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that officers may only use force when strictly necessary. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved. The 2020 UN guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement provides that tear gas should only be employed when necessary to prevent further physical harm and should not be used to disperse nonviolent demonstrations. Dogs should be “under the effective control of their handlers at all times.”</p> <p>The Angolan authorities’ use of force against people who are simply exercising their right to protest should not be tolerated and needs to stop immediately. The government should ensure any efforts to ban or organize street trade are conducted by officers operating with full respect for human rights. Those found to be violating the law and committing abuse should be investigated and held accountable.</p> Fri, 02 Jun 2023 14:51:53 -0400 Human Rights Watch Russia Moves to Ban Trans Health Care Click to expand Image A Russian transgender woman walks in Saint Petersburg on April 12, 2019.  © 2019 Olga Malsteva/AFP via Getty Images <p>Elected officials in Russia have proposed a new law that would ban transgender people from accessing gender affirming health services – including voluntary surgeries – while allowing operations on intersex children to be carried out without their consent. The bill also prohibits people from changing their name and gender marker on official documents.</p> <p>The bill essentially infringes on the rights of both transgender people and intersex children. Consenting transgender adults who seek medical interventions to affirm their gender identity will be barred from those services while children born with variations in their sex characteristics – also known as intersex children – will continue to be subjected to medically unnecessary, nonconsensual surgeries to “normalize” their healthy bodies. These provisions are not only discriminatory but also violate the rights to physical integrity and privacy.</p> <p>The hypocrisy of not allowing adults to make decisions about their bodies while allowing irreversible, unnecessary, and high-risk operations to be carried out on children is not unique to Russia but rather part of a cynical and exploitative anti-rights tilt politicians around the world are taking.</p> <p>In recent years, officials in state governments across the United States have introduced dozens of bills that limit gender-affirming care for transgender people while allowing nonconsensual interventions on intersex children. Intersex people are usually described in this legislation as “children with a medically verifiable disorder of sex development,” which is a pejorative term for intersex variations. In Russia, lawmakers are using the phrase “congenital physiological anomalies of sex formation in children,” which carries the same harmful impact.</p> <p>Deputy Petr Tolstoy said of the bill: “We preserve Russia for posterity, with its cultural and family values, traditional foundations, putting up a barrier to the penetration of Western anti-family ideology.”</p> <p>This rhetoric is emblematic of President Vladimir Putin’s wholesale rejection of universal human rights. In December 2022, ten months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Duma extended the scope of Russia’s harmful “gay propaganda” law forbidding the public portrayal of “non-traditional sexual relations.” Previously focused on young people under 18, the prohibited exposure would now apply to any age group.</p> <p>Russian politicians are harming transgender and intersex people by continuing to deploy cynical “family values” rhetoric to uphold regressive ideas about gender and sexuality while assaulting informed consent rights for adults and children.</p> Fri, 02 Jun 2023 10:47:53 -0400 Human Rights Watch Rwanda: Alleged Genocide Mastermind Arrested Click to expand Image 1994 Rwandan genocide suspect Fulgence Kayishema appears in the Cape Town Magistrates court in Cape Town, South Africa, May 26, 2023. © 2023 REUTERS/Nic Bothma <p>(Nairobi) – The arrest of Fulgence Kayishema is an important milestone in the search for justice for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Human Rights Watch said today. His due process and fair trial rights should be guaranteed so that justice can be delivered.<br /><br /> Kayishema had been evading justice since 2001, until his arrest on May 24, 2023, in South Africa. He is alleged to have planned the killings of more than 2,000 men, women, and children on April 15, 1994, at a church in western Rwanda. Orchestrated by ethnic Hutu political and military extremists, the genocide claimed more than half a million lives and destroyed approximately three quarters of Rwanda’s Tutsi population in just three months.<br /><br /> “Kayishema’s arrest shows there is no expiration date on justice for the most serious crimes, and would-be perpetrators globally should take note,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “His arrest and expected trial can offer some respite for the loved ones of victims of the terrible crimes committed 29 years ago in Rwanda, in particular in Kibuye Prefecture.”<br /><br /> Kayishema was first indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2001. The indictment alleges that he directly participated in planning and executing the church massacre, including by trying to burn the structure while over 2,000 Tutsi hid inside. Failing to ignite the church, the indictment says, he helped plan to use a bulldozer to collapse it, burying, and killing those who had sought refuge there. The indictment says that Kayishema and others then supervised moving the corpses from the church grounds into mass graves.<br /><br /> His case was transferred to Rwandan authorities in 2012 following the first referral by the tribunal of Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, in 2011. Human Rights Watch filed an amicus brief in 2008, opposing the transfer of the Kayishema case to Rwanda, on the grounds that Rwanda could not guarantee a fair trial.<br /><br /> Kayishema had evaded arrest and never been brought to trial by the tribunal, which closed in 2015. It was succeeded by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).<br /><br /> Kayishema’s arrest comes as several other people alleged to be high-level planners of the genocide in Rwanda have either been arrested or confirmed dead. Félicien Kabuga, an alleged mastermind behind the genocide, was arrested in France in May 2020. Kabuga’s trial started in September 2022 before the IRMCT, but was suspended in March while judges considered whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.<br /><br /> Just days after Kabuga’s arrest, the IRMCT announced that the remains of Augustin Bizimana – the defence minister at the time of the killings – were identified in a grave in the Republic of Congo. Additionally, in May 2022, Protais Mpiranya – the commander of the army’s presidential guard at the time of the genocide – was confirmed dead. The late Human Rights Watch senior adviser Alison Des Forges had documented that Mpiranya was implicated in leading militia members and ordinary civilians in carrying out the killings. In May 2022, the IRMCT prosecutor also confirmed the death of another fugitive, Phénéas Munyarugarama, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002.<br /><br /> As a result of these deaths, survivors have been robbed of their chance to see those allegedly responsible for the genocide face the accusations against them in a court of law, Human Rights Watch said.<br /><br /> Kayishema is now facing proceedings in the South African court system. Rwanda’s Public Prosecution Authority was quoted in media reports as saying that Kayishema is expected to be transferred first to the IRMCT in Arusha, Tanzania, and then to Rwanda for trial.<br /><br /> When it is possible to guarantee fair trials, it is best to prosecute international crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity where they were committed, close to the victims and the affected population. However, in Rwanda, the justice system lacks full independence, and the government can exert pressure to influence the outcome of trials, especially in politically sensitive cases. This risks undermining the rights of the accused in the case, as well as those of the victims to receive meaningful justice for the atrocities they have endured.<br /><br /> When the tribunal closed, the IRMCT was tasked with arresting and prosecuting the nine remaining fugitives it had indicted. It retained jurisdiction over Bizimana, Kabuga, and Mpiranya, while the six remaining cases were referred to Rwandan authorities, including those of Kayishema and Munyarugarama. Three others – Charles Sikubwabo, Aloys Ndimbati, Charles Ryandikayo – remain fugitives.<br /><br /> Ladislas Ntaganzwa, whose case was also transferred to Rwandan authorities, was arrested in Congo and transferred to Rwanda in March 2016, where he faced trial. He was convicted of genocide and other related crimes in May 2020 and his conviction and life sentence were maintained on appeal in March 2023. The long duration of the trial also raised fair trial concerns.<br /><br /> In its November 2018 monitoring report, the IRMCT reported that Ntaganzwa had told the court he was held in solitary confinement for 25 days, and that prison authorities had harassed him, threatened to beat him up, and intimidated him for breaching prison regulations after he was found to have a mobile phone. In a meeting with Ntaganzwa in December, he told the IRMCT’s monitors that his defense lawyers had not been allowed to see him during his solitary confinement, that the authorities had confiscated his laptop for a day, and that he was concerned they had gone through his defense documents.<br /><br /> In March 2019, one of Ntaganzwa’s defense lawyers expressed concern that sharing the defense’s witness list early on in the proceedings would lead to it being tampered with. Ntaganzwa repeated his concerns regarding the prison authorities’ attempts to monitor his communications and laptop on several occasions.<br /><br /> The IRMCT monitors trials referred to national jurisdictions and has the authority to revoke a referral if it determines that a trial is unfair as set out in article 6 of its statute and rule 14 of its rules of procedure and evidence.<br /><br /> In July 2021, the Association of Defence Counsel practising before the International Courts and Tribunals (ADC-ICT) expressed concern that a defense lawyer practicing before the IRMCT may have been a target of Rwanda’s use of the Pegasus spying software. According to the Pegasus Project, an international investigative journalism initiative, the phone number of a defense lawyer representing Marie Rose Fatuma in the Nzabonimpa et al proceedings before the IRMCT was on a list of numbers to be potentially targeted with the malicious software manufactured by Israeli tech firm NSO Group.<br /><br /> The lawyer in question has also represented high-profile government critics such as Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina’s September 2021 conviction highlighted some of the fundamental, persisting issues relating to the manipulation and politicization of the judiciary in Rwanda.<br /><br /> Rusesabagina’s arrest and detention started as an enforced disappearance in August 2020. Nevertheless, in 2021, the High Court ruled that Rusesabagina’s transfer was legal. In February 2021, then-Justice Minister Johnston Busingye inadvertently admitted the government’s role in Rusesabagina’s enforced disappearance, illegal transfer, and fair trial rights violations – including the interception of privileged communications between Rusesabagina and his lawyers – in a recorded call. Rusesabagina’s 25-year conviction was commuted in March by a presidential order.<br /><br /> While the Rwandan government established a special law to regulate cases transferred from the ICTR or other countries, these cases still fall within the jurisdiction of the High Court. The manner in which the High Court and other courts continue to manage prosecutions is indicative of the risks that may exist to the due process and fair trial rights of an accused in a transferred genocide trial.<br /><br /> For example, on September 30, 2021, Yvonne Idamange, a Tutsi genocide survivor who accused the government of monetizing the genocide and called for a protest, was found guilty of inciting violence and public uprising, denigrating genocide memorials, minimizing the genocide, and spreading rumors and violent assault, among other charges. Her trial was held behind closed doors at the High Court’s Special Chamber for International Crimes and Cross-border Crimes, after the prosecution argued she posed a risk to public order, and she was handed a 15-year sentence, which was increased on appeal to 17 years.</p> <p>“Kayishema is alleged to have committed genocide and crimes against humanity, and a free and fair trial is necessary for a full reckoning,” Mudge said. “The IRMCT has a responsibility to ensure that Kayishema receives a fair trial so that the fundamental rights he allegedly violated are upheld.”</p> Fri, 02 Jun 2023 06:50:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Saudi Arabia Executes Two Shi’a Bahrainis on Terrorism Charges Click to expand Image People gather around the symbolic graves of Jaafar Sultan (left) and Sadeq Thamer, in Bahrain.    © 2023 zainab_alaradii/Twitter <p>Two Bahraini Shi’a men have been executed in Saudi Arabia following what Amnesty International described as a “grossly unfair trial” on terrorism-related charges.</p> <p>Jaafar Sultan and Sadeq Thamer were arrested in May 2015 and held incommunicado for more than three months, according to Amnesty International. The charges were related to allegations of smuggling explosives inside Saudi Arabia and participating in protests in Bahrain.</p> <p>The two Bahrainis were tried and sentenced to death in Saudi’s notorious Specialized Criminal Court in October 2021 following protest-related charges that fall within the Saudi counterterrorism law.</p> <p>Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, continue to use overbroad provisions contained within terrorism laws to suppress dissent and target religious minorities.</p> <p>Counterterrorism laws in the GCC typically include broad, vague charges and definitions of terrorism used as catch-all provisions to punish peaceful dissidents, political activists, and human rights defenders.</p> <p>Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim minority has long suffered systemic discrimination and been targeted by state-funded hate speech. On March 12, 2022, Saudi Arabian authorities executed 81 men, 41 of whom are said to belong to the Shi’a Muslim minority, under its counterterrorism law, despite promises to curtail executions.</p> <p>Bahrain’s Shi’a majority also suffers from discrimination. Bahraini authorities have systematically targeted Shia clerics and have violently arrested numerous human rights defenders with Shia backgrounds, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja in April 2011, who they sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial under Bahrain’s terrorism law.</p> <p>Overly broad terrorism charges have also been exploited by other Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced Khalaf Abdul Rahman al-Romaithi to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges following a grossly unfair trial known as the “UAE94” mass trials of 94 critics of the Emirati government. Al-Romaithi was recently extradited from Jordan to the UAE.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding violations of due process and fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, making it unlikely that Sultan and Thamer received a fair trial leading up to their execution. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances as a cruel and inhumane punishment.</p> Fri, 02 Jun 2023 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Sudan: Concrete UN Security Council Action Needed Click to expand Image File photo showing a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. © 2016 Andrew Kelly/Reuters <p>(Nairobi) – The United Nations Security Council should take stronger steps to reverse the rapidly deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /><br /> During the Security Council discussion on June 2, 2023 to renew the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), all council members, including the three African members, should support increased human rights monitoring, targeted sanctions, and an arms embargo against the warring parties.  <br /><br /> “The UN Security Council needs to increase its pressure on the warring parties in Sudan to end violations of international humanitarian law,” said Allan Ngari, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As a first step, the Security Council’s three African members should demonstrate leadership by calling for expanding the UN arms embargo to cover the entire country and imposing sanctions on military leaders responsible for grave abuses.”<br /><br /> The armed conflict between the country’s military, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), an autonomous force, which broke out on April 15, has killed at least 730 people and injured over 5,500. It has displaced more than 1.4 million people according to the UN. The warring sides have damaged or destroyed infrastructure critical to civilians’ survival, including cutting off water and electricity.<br /><br /> So far, the three African members of the Security Council – Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique – have focused on the efforts of the African Union to secure a ceasefire and resume dialogue among the parties. They should recognize that the continuing deterioration of the situation in Sudan means that stronger Security Council measures are needed, Human Rights Watch said.<br /><br /> The Security Council should reaffirm that protecting civilians is a core pillar of UNITAM’s mission, notably in Darfur. It should press the mission and the UN more broadly to ensure extensive monitoring of the situation there, deploy additional staff, and report regularly on violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights by the warring forces. It should also make recommendations for improving civilian protection and respect for human rights.<br /><br /> UN member countries should take swift and concrete actions to prevent further atrocities and promote accountability for grave violations. These steps should include an expanded arms embargo throughout Sudan and individual targeted sanctions on those responsible for violating international human rights and humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. While African countries and bodies have a critical role to play in pressing parties to stop their harmful and abusive actions, certain measures will require a global effort to achieve the necessary impact.<br /><br /> Residents trapped in Khartoum as well as people who have fled into neighboring South Sudan described to Human Rights Watch how civilians have been killed and injured from heavy fighting, airstrikes, and shelling in residential areas. Neither party to the conflict appears to have taken measures to minimize harm to civilians while conducting attacks or deploying their forces, as required by international humanitarian law. None of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed heard of or received any warnings of attacks by either warring party, aside from some initial warnings from the military on television during the first week of fighting.<br /><br /> Fighting and attacks on civilians have continued in Khartoum and several key towns in Darfur despite a May 22 cessation of hostilities agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States.<br /><br /> The fighting in populated areas, as well as attacks on healthcare facilities, has added to loss of civilian life and property. The UN has documented 22 attacks on healthcare facilities since the conflict began. Several residents said that they were not able to take people who had been killed or injured to medical facilities because of fighting. Aid organizations and doctors warn that reports of sexual violence are increasing.<br /><br /> The warring parties have continued to attack and loot aid operations and hamper the access of humanitarian organizations. On May 23, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders or MSF) reported the looting and occupation of an MSF warehouse in Khartoum. International aid agencies have reported obstacles to receiving visas for their foreign staff.<br /><br /> The UN Security Council should make clear to the warring parties that there will be serious consequences for abuses against aid workers, including doctors and other health professionals. And regardless of any ceasefires, it should make clear to the warring parties that they have to meet their international legal obligations to facilitate the rapid, safe, and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid.<br /><br /> The Security Council has released only one public statement on the crisis in Sudan since the conflict broke out. The three African members rejected a statement drafted in mid-April by the United Kingdom, which leads on Sudan at the Security Council.<br /><br /> The council has been discussing the renewal of UNITAMS ahead of its June 3 expiration. The mission, established in June 2020, is largely a political mission but has a mandate to protect and promote human rights and assist in civilian protection, notably in Darfur. The mission had been largely focused on the political process in Khartoum since the October 2021 coup.<br /><br /> The Security Council needs to provide greater scrutiny of the human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said. In late 2020, the council had decided to withdraw peacekeeping forces from Darfur, despite clear evidence of mounting violence in the region. Since then, local communities there, notably in West Darfur, have faced repeated large-scale attacks, killings, and massive property destruction.<br /><br /> Since the recent conflict broke out, civilians in West Darfur have experienced new rounds of violence. Armed groups and military forces have attacked civilians and burned civilian infrastructure including hospitals, displaced people’s settlements, and markets, killing hundreds. Civilians in other regional capitals in Darfur have also been attacked in the last two weeks.<br /><br /> “The UN Security Council has repeatedly failed civilians in Darfur,” Ngari said. “The three African council members should refocus attention on protecting civilians there and throughout Sudan. That means ensuring credible investigations into ongoing abuses and scaling up the UN’s human rights monitoring and reporting capacity across the country.”<br /><br /></p> Thu, 01 Jun 2023 15:13:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Marriage Equality Gets a Boost in South Korea Click to expand Image Participants march during a Pride event in support of LGBT rights in Seoul, South Korea on June 1, 2019. © 2019 Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Image <p>Lawmakers in South Korea have introduced legislation that would extend the right to marry to same-sex couples. This important legislation would finally enshrine the rights of same-sex couples in the country.</p> <p>The bill would amend the gendered definition of marriage in the country’s civil code, allowing same-sex couples to marry and extending them the same rights and benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples. Meanwhile, the National Assembly is also considering legislation that would create civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage for both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.</p> <p>In the absence of partnership recognition, same-sex couples in South Korea are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and rights violations, including discrimination in taxation, inheritance, and family law.</p> <p>Earlier this year, South Korea’s High Court ruled that denying health insurance benefits to same-sex couples that were provided to heterosexual couples constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.</p> <p>South Korea also lacks general legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation is widely popular in South Korea, it has been stymied by legislative inaction and opposition from a small but vocal segment of the population.</p> <p>The marriage equality bill comes as lawmakers in other countries in the region are considering more protections for same-sex couples. In 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality. Lawmakers in Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand are considering proposals to legally recognize marriages or civil unions for same-sex couples.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among human rights bodies that states must offer some form of recognition for same-sex relationships to protect their rights. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that, “States have a positive obligation to provide legal recognition to couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as to their children,” and to ensure that benefits traditionally offered to heterosexual married couples are extended without discrimination.</p> <p>South Korea’s National Assembly should embrace this opportunity to protect the rights of same-sex couples and enact the marriage equality bill into law.</p> Thu, 01 Jun 2023 14:59:48 -0400 Human Rights Watch Australia Court Backs Media Reporting on Soldier Killings in Afghanistan Click to expand Image  Ben Roberts-Smith departs the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, June 9, 2021.  © 2021 Sam Mooy/Getty Images <p>An Australian court has sided with three newspapers in a defamation suit brought by former Australian Special Forces soldier Ben Roberts-Smith over coverage of the murders of civilians during the armed conflict in Afghanistan. The case is a victory for public interest journalism and the role it plays in bringing important issues to light.</p> <p>The court found the media outlets had “established substantial or contextual truth of allegations of murders of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan” by Roberts-Smith, who had sued the newspapers for defamation over the coverage of the killings.</p> <p>The verdict puts Australian war crimes investigations back into the spotlight. The media defended their reporting, asserting that it was true. While not a criminal trial, it is the first time a civilian court in Australia has assessed allegations of war crimes committed by an Australian soldier.</p> <p>During the trial, former Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers testified to witnessing summary executions of civilians, and being bullied into proving themselves by carrying out killings themselves. Among the news reports that the court found to be substantially true were Roberts-Smith kicking an unarmed Afghan civilian off a cliff and procuring other soldiers to shoot him, pressuring a newly deployed soldier to execute an older Afghan man, and machine-gunning a civilian with a prosthetic leg.</p> <p>The Australian Office of the Special Investigator is currently investigating more than 40 incidents relating to alleged war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016. In March 2023, police made their first arrest of a soldier accused of murdering an Afghan civilian in 2012.</p> <p>Under international humanitarian law, the Australian government is obligated to investigate alleged war crimes by its forces and prosecute those responsible. The 2020 report of the Independent Afghanistan Inquiry (known as the Brereton Report) recommended the Australian government pay compensation to survivors and families of victims unlawfully killed without waiting for the establishment of individual criminal liability. The Department of Defence has said it is looking into the recommendations and how to address the issue of compensation, but they have not publicly indicated what, if any, progress has been made.</p> <p>Criminal trials have not yet started and will likely take years. But the families of victims – who have now waited more than a decade – deserve better. Prompt and adequate payments to the victims or their families as recommended by the Brereton Report is not only legally required, but is the right thing to do.</p> Thu, 01 Jun 2023 11:31:07 -0400 Human Rights Watch China: Acknowledge Tiananmen Massacre Click to expand Image Liu Xiaobo addresses the crowd at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 1, 1989. © 1989 Getty Images/ David Turnley <p>(New York) – Chinese authorities are increasing efforts to erase memories of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing while people across the globe commemorate the event, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>The Chinese government should acknowledge responsibility for the mass killing of pro-democracy demonstrators and provide redress for victims and family members.</p> <p>“The Chinese government continues to evade accountability for the decades-old Tiananmen Massacre, which has emboldened its arbitrary detention of millions, its severe censorship and surveillance, and its efforts to undermine rights internationally,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Still, people across China and the globe continue to risk their safety and freedom by speaking out and demanding their rights.”</p> <p>Most recently, in late 2022, thousands of people across China took to the streets to protest the government’s draconian Covid-19 measures and the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule. In response, the government abruptly lifted most of the pandemic restrictions, but detained dozens of protesters.</p> <p>As in previous years, in the weeks before the Tiananmen anniversary, the authorities have preempted commemorations. They restricted the movement and communication of activists and members of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of relatives of victims of the 1989 massacre. On May 27, 2023, the authorities in Hunan province detained activist Chen Siming after he refused to delete his tweet commemorating Tiananmen. The police in Shandong summoned activist Qi Chonghuai and warned him not to participate in commemoration activities.</p> <p>The Tiananmen Mothers released a public statement reiterating their call for “truth, compensation and accountability” about the massacre.</p> <p>In response to commemoration activities in 2022, the authorities in Hangzhou detained Xu Guang, an activist and participant in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, shortly after he went to a local police station to demand the Chinese government acknowledge the massacre. In April, a court tried him for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The verdict has not been announced.</p> <p>In July 2022, the authorities detained Xu’s friend, Chen Ziliang, 55, a member of the banned Democracy Party, in relation to Xu’s investigation. In December, Chen, who had suffered a stroke prior to his detention, died in custody after being denied adequate medical care. The authorities warned Chen’s family not to speak about his death publicly. In Guangdong, the authorities forcibly disappeared activist Ye Hongwen, shortly after he posted a photo of himself on Twitter commemorating Tiananmen in a public square in 2022. He was later released.</p> <p>In March, Jiang Yanyong, a prominent doctor known for exposing the Chinese government’s coverup of the SARS epidemic in 2003, died in Beijing. Jiang, who witnessed the military’s June 1989 killings as a surgeon in a military hospital in Beijing, had called for China’s leaders to acknowledge the massacre, for which he was first detained and then periodically subjected to monitoring, harassment, and house arrest. The authorities allowed only a few family members and students to attend his funeral.</p> <p>In Hong Kong, in February, a court sentenced three organizers of the now-banned annual Tiananmen vigil to four-and-a-half months in prison for failing to provide the authorities with information on the organizing group. Among them, Chow Hang-tung had already been serving 15-month and 12-month sentences for participating in the 2021 and 2020 vigils respectively. On June 4, 2022, despite the ban and heavy police presence, some people still went to Victoria Park, the site of the vigil, and held up electronic candles and phone flashlights, or sang songs of remembrance. Police arrested 15 participants for obstructing officers and for other offenses.</p> <p>In May, the Hong Kong police seized the “Pillar of Shame,” a large sculpture commemorating the massacre victims, from a facility run by the University of Hong Kong. University authorities had removed the sculpture in 2021 from the campus. Its Danish sculptor, Jens Galschiø, made repeated attempts to retrieve the piece, but the university ignored them. Also in May, the Hong Kong authorities removed at least nine titles about the Tiananmen Square massacre from the city’s public libraries. That month the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong announced that it would not hold a Tiananmen commemorative mass that year; the church cancelled its 2022 mass due to concerns over the National Security Law.</p> <p>In contrast to the enforced silence inside China and Hong Kong, people around the world, including in Paris, Boston, Sydney, and Osaka, held public discussions, exhibitions, gatherings, and published essays to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown. The events were organized by known diaspora pro-democracy groups or anonymous social media accounts. Some dressed up in Xi Jinping costumes while others wore black. Many covered their faces in fear of retaliation by Chinese authorities against them or their families in China. Many young people, born after the massacre, participated in a rally in the Los Angeles area.</p> <p>The Chinese government has long ignored domestic and international calls for justice for the Tiananmen Massacre, and some of the sanctions that the European Union and US imposed in response have over the years been weakened or evaded. The lack of a sustained, coordinated, and international response to the massacre and ensuing crackdown is one factor in Beijing’s increasingly brazen human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. These include the tightened control over civil society, media, and the internet, mass detention of an estimated one million Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and the direct imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong that suppresses fundamental freedoms.</p> <p>“No matter how hard President Xi Jinping’s government tries, it won’t succeed in erasing the memory of Tiananmen from the minds of China’s people,” Wang said. “More and more young people in China are joining together to demand truth and accountability.”</p> <p>The Tiananmen Massacre was precipitated by the peaceful gatherings of students, workers, and others in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities in April 1989, calling for freedom of expression, accountability, and an end to corruption. The government responded to the intensifying protests in late May 1989 by declaring martial law.</p> <p>On June 3 and 4, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers fired upon and killed untold numbers of peaceful protesters and bystanders. In Beijing, some citizens attacked army convoys and burned vehicles in response to the military’s violence.</p> <p>Following the killings, the government carried out a nationwide crackdown and arrested thousands of people on “counter-revolution” and other criminal charges, including arson and disrupting social order.</p> <p>The government has never accepted responsibility for the massacre or held any officials legally accountable for the killings. It has been unwilling to investigate the events or release data on those who were killed, injured, forcibly disappeared, or imprisoned. Tiananmen Mothers documented the details of 202 people who were killed during the suppression of the movement in Beijing and other cities.</p> <p>As a party to a number of international human rights treaties and as a current member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which obligates China to “uphold the highest standards of human rights,” the Chinese government should urgently take the following steps with respect to the Tiananmen Massacre:</p> Respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and cease the harassment and arbitrary detention of individuals who challenge the official account of the Tiananmen Massacre; Meet with and apologize to members of the Tiananmen Mothers, publish the names of all who died, and appropriately compensate the victims’ families; Permit an independent public inquiry into Tiananmen and its aftermath, and promptly publish the findings and conclusions; Allow the unimpeded return of Chinese citizens, exiled due to their connections to the events of 1989; and Investigate all government and military officials who planned or ordered the unlawful use of lethal force against demonstrators, and appropriately prosecute them. Thu, 01 Jun 2023 08:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Ethiopia: Ethnic Cleansing Persists Under Tigray Truce Click to expand Image Displaced people from Western Tigray stand outside a school where they are sheltering in Mekele, Ethiopia, February 24, 2021. © 2021 EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP via Getty Images Local authorities and Amhara forces in Western Tigray Zone in northern Ethiopia have continued an ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans since the November 2, 2022, truce agreement. The Ethiopian government should suspend, investigate, and appropriately prosecute security forces and officials implicated in serious rights abuses in Western Tigray. International law provides that people forcibly removed from their homes have the right to return. However, the current context in Western Tigray is not conducive for voluntary, safe, and dignified returns. <p>(Nairobi) – Local authorities and Amhara forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have continued to forcibly expel Tigrayans as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign in Western Tigray Zone since the November 2, 2022, truce agreement, Human Rights Watch said today. The Ethiopian government should suspend, investigate, and appropriately prosecute commanders and officials implicated in serious rights abuses in Western Tigray.<br /><br /> Since the outbreak of armed conflict in Tigray in November 2020, Amhara security forces and interim authorities have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tigrayan population in Western Tigray, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Recent Human Rights Watch research found that two officials, Col. Demeke Zewdu and Belay Ayalew, who were previously implicated in abuses, continue to be involved in arbitrary detention, torture, and forced deportations of Tigrayans.<br /><br /> “The November truce in northern Ethiopia has not brought about an end to the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in Western Tigray Zone,” said Laetitia Bader, deputy African director at Human Rights Watch. “If the Ethiopian government is really serious about ensuring justice for abuses, then it should stop opposing independent investigations into the atrocities in Western Tigray and hold abusive officials and commanders to account.”<br /><br /> From September 2022 to April 2023, Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 people by phone, including witnesses and victims of abuses, and aid agency staff. Most are Tigrayan and had been arbitrarily detained in the town of Humera. Interviewees said that local authorities and Amhara forces held over a thousand Tigrayans in detention in the Western Tigray towns of Humera, Rawyan, and Adebai on the basis of their identity before forcibly expelling Tigrayans in November 2022 or January 2023. In May, Human Rights Watch provided a summary of its preliminary findings to the Ethiopian government but received no response.</p> They asked me to pay 300,000 ETB so that I could be released to [Sudan], not Tigray. They would say in front of us, all of you should be killed, you shouldn’t stay alive. 30-year old former detainee held in Bet Hintset prison <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p><br /> Amhara regional special forces and Fano militia in Humera and Rawyan held Tigrayans in both official and unofficial detention sites in dire conditions. “There was no medical treatment,” said a 28-year-old who was detained in Bet Hintset prison in Humera. “If people got sick, they remained there until they die.” Many died due to lack of food and medication.<br /><br /> On the evening of November 9, Amhara forces and authorities in Western Tigray carried out the coordinated expulsion of detainees from sites around Humera and nearby towns to central Tigray. A report prepared by aid agencies found that Fano militia transported more than 2,800 men, women, and children from 5 detention sites in Western Tigray on November 10, according to Reuters.<br /><br /> Several former detainees told Human Rights Watch that again in early January 2023, at least 70 people, including residents and detainees, were forcibly expelled from Western Tigray.<br /><br /> Although the term ethnic cleansing is not formally defined under international law, the United Nations Commission of Experts, mandated to look into violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, described it as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means, the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” International law provides that people forcibly removed from their homes have the right to return. However, the current context in Western Tigray Zone is not conducive for voluntary, safe, and dignified returns of Tigrayan refugees and internally displaced people, Human Rights Watch said.<br /><br /> As of March, militias in Western Tigray continued to threaten and harass Tigrayan civilians. A woman from Adebai who fled toward Sudan, said: “The [militias] came into my home and said I need to leave because it’s not our land. They would knock at midnight and say Tigrayans can’t come back.” In April, three former and one current resident of Humera said that interim authorities were bringing in and settling communities from the Amhara region in the town, making it harder for Tigrayans to return.<br /><br /> Many displaced people told Human Rights Watch that they hoped to return home but did not feel safe while abusive officials and security forces remained. As of October 2022, the UN refugee agency had registered 47,000 Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan, with many reportedly displaced from Western Tigray. The precise figure of Tigrayans internally displaced from Western Tigray remains unknown. In 2021, hundreds of thousands were estimated to be internally displaced to other parts of the Tigray region outside of Western Zone.</p> The international community needs to play its role to make sure that this does not happen again. Accountability and justice are also needed for all the human rights abuses in Western Tigray. Starting from the high officials all the way to those lower level and on the ground, the ordinary citizens that participated in criminal activities, all need to be questioned and accountability is needed. 40-year-old former detainee held in Bet Hintset prison <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p><br /> Tigrayans interviewed expressed the need for justice and accountability. “Starting from the high officials all the way to those at the lowest level, the ordinary citizens that participated in criminal activities all need to be questioned, and accountability is needed,” said a 40-year-old man from Humera. “The international community and Ethiopian government need to work hard to make sure this never happens again.”<br /><br /> The Ethiopian government has demonstrated little interest in bringing those responsible for abuses in Western Tigray to justice. In September 2022, an Inter-Ministerial Task Force established by the Ministry of Justice reported that it would investigate violations in Western Tigray by December 2022. The government so far has not released details of these investigations nor held anyone responsible for serious violations.<br /><br /> In May, during Ethiopia’s review before the UN Committee against Torture, Ethiopian officials downplayed reports of ethnic cleansing. The committee said that the government should carry out prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into alleged human rights violations during the conflict in northern Ethiopia, and recommended that an independent body investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment.<br /><br /> While the European Union, the United States, and other international partners have said that justice is a priority in Tigray, they are falling short of identifying explicit or concrete benchmarks for accountability for the atrocities against Tigrayans in Western Tigray, despite the near absence of independent investigations there to date, Human Rights Watch said. Instead, since the signing of the truce, many governments have sought a rapprochement with Ethiopian federal authorities rather than seeking tangible progress on accountability. In April, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted formal conclusions on its future engagement with Ethiopia but did not address the lack of progress on justice, including in Western Tigray.<br /><br /> International monitoring and investigations in Western Tigray remain critical, Human Rights Watch said. The African Union monitoring mission reported its plans to visit Western Tigray in June. Governments should continue to support the mandate of the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), established by the Human Rights Council, urge the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the commission, and scrutinize the Ethiopian government’s investigations in Western Tigray. Reengagement with Ethiopia should be tied to concrete progress on delivering justice and accountability for victims of violations.<br /><br /> The European Union should take the lead to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council renews the experts’ mandate at its 54th session in September 2023.<br /><br /> “Ethiopia’s international partners are eager to point to an improved rights situation, but this is out of sync with the lived reality many communities are facing,” Bader said. “If they truly want to see sustainable and credible rights progress, they should stop overlooking victims’ calls and press Ethiopian authorities to end ongoing abuses and investigate those leading the atrocities.”<br /><br />For additional findings and details, please see below.<br /><br />Ethnic Cleansing in Tigray<br /><br /> Since the outbreak of the armed conflict in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, a mix of Ethiopian security forces, in particular Amhara regional police, known as “Amhara Liyu,” militia groups known as “Fano,” and in some cases Ethiopian and Eritrean federal forces, have systematically rounded up thousands of ethnic Tigrayans. The security forces detained them for prolonged periods without charge in police stations, prisons, military camps, and other unofficial sites including warehouses and schools throughout the Western Tigray Zone. Hand in hand with these ethnically targeted arrests, security forces and interim authorities expelled in phases hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans toward central Tigray.<br /><br /> In an April 2022 report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented that Amhara security forces and interim authorities had been ethnically cleansing the Tigrayan population in Western Tigray Zone in a campaign that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The organizations found that hundreds and perhaps thousands of Tigrayans were still detained and faced life-threatening treatment that may amount to the crime against humanity of extermination.<br /><br /> Since then, the authorities and security forces have held thousands of Tigrayans, mostly men, in sites that include administrative offices, police stations, military camps, and prisons. Most of the detainees interviewed had been held for over a year, since July or December 2021. Some were transferred from one site to another.</p> Click to expand Image An overview of Humera from August 2, 2021 shows the areas where people reported being detained in the town. <p><br /> A 42-year-old man arrested in July 2021 and held in Bet Hintset prison in Humera said: “They arrested me because of my identity, because I am Tigrayan. At first, they said that we would be released after they asked questions to find out who is a criminal and who is not. But they didn’t do such a thing ... We were more or less 2,000 people in detention. We were all Tigrayans.”<br /><br /> Some said they managed to evade the ethnic cleansing campaign by hiding with Amhara friends or relatives, or concealing their Tigrayan identity. “People pretended to have a blood relationship with Amhara, Walqayte, or with Eritreans to save their lives,” said a 30-year-old woman, referring to other ethnic groups in Western Tigray. By August 2022, security forces apprehended many of those in hiding and eventually expelled them.<br /><br /> Bet Hintset prison was particularly overcrowded. “There were 2 blocks, one had around 1,000 people, the other around 900,” recalled one detainee who was held in a 12-by-4-meter cell with about 140 people. “Some rooms had 198 prisoners, others with 379. There was no space, it was really packed … All the rooms were full…. During the hot season, it was very difficult to sleep, so we would sleep in shifts.”<br /><br /> Guards limited Tigrayan detainees’ access to food, water, and medicine. A farmer held in an administrative center in Rawyan said: “We were around 60 and they didn’t give us any food. It was the people in Rawyan, other ethnicities that would bring us food. They were insulted when doing so. Sometimes we wouldn’t even eat.”<br /><br /> Former detainees in Bet Hintset said they were kept in overcrowded cells for months, with decreasing amounts of food and water. A detained farmer said: “They would sometimes give us three biscuits for a week. Sometimes they would disappear ... There was no medicine at all.” A 35-year-old man described June 2022 as a “dangerous month when the hunger climaxed.” Another detainee said: “The guards would say they were punishing us by denying us food. They wanted to finish us; they would repeatedly say we were a difficult people.” Detainees held in Badu Sidiste prison recalled similar deprivations.</p> I never thought I would be released. Because they were so cruel and aggressive. If you saw the way they treated us, you could never imagine and hope that we would be released. 40-year old former detainee held in Badu Sidiste Prison <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p><br /> Six detainees said that at least nineteen people died due to lack of food and medications in Bet Hintset prison alone between July 2021 and November 2022. From June 2022 onward, the already poor treatment and conditions detainees faced in Bet Hintset prison became worse when guards further reduced the limited food that detainees received.<br /><br />Killings in Detention<br /><br /> Security forces killed at least six detainees in Bet Hintset prison in Humera between June and August 2022 following prisoner escapes.<br /><br /> Around mid-June, 16 detainees, most held in one cell, took advantage of heavy rains and managed to escape.<br /><br /> The guards, including Amhara regional special forces and Fano, learned of the escape the next day when they counted the prisoners. “They began interrogating us to find out how the people escaped and who helped them,” explained one detainee. “They started to beat and treat people badly.”<br /><br /> Two detainees said officials soon replaced the guards with more aggressive ones. A detained driver said, “They locked us in our room for one day and night.… They didn’t allow us to use the toilet. It was so hot.” Three witnessed the guards shoot and kill a man nicknamed “Bambini” three days later while he was using the toilet. The driver continued: “Maybe they imagined he might be escaping too. They beat and shot him with a Kalashnikov [military assault rifle] and brought his body before the prisoners to intimidate others.”<br /><br /> On August 15, 2022, a week before fighting resumed in the Tigray region, three prisoners escaped from Room No. 7 at Bet Hintset. Guards responded harshly by beating detainees in that cellblock. A detained farmer said: “They first locked us in our rooms. They beat us, hard, mostly those that acted as facilitators [detainees that acted as representatives between guards and other prisoners] in each room.” Guards then selected eight detainees from Room No. 7 for further interrogation. The farmer continued: “They took [eight] from the room people escaped from. I heard the beating and the cries and shouts of the people.”<br /><br /> Two of the men selected were Kahlayu Seyoum, described as 70 or older, who had worked as a teacher in the Amhara region, and the other, Seare Berihu, a religious scholar. The guards beat both and they died as a result, the people interviewed said. “The Amhara Liyu started to beat them severely with an iron rod. Kahlayu was ill with diabetes and had high blood pressure,” explained one detainee. “Seare immediately started bleeding from his mouth when they began beating them with an iron rod.”<br /><br /> Another detainee who witnessed their beatings added:</p> <p>The [Amhara Liyu] started to beat them with sticks. But then one Amhara Liyu started criticizing the way they were beating them. She got out an iron rod and began beating them herself, hitting them in the chest. They began spitting out blood.</p> <p>Another prisoner tried to help some of the detainees selected for interrogation but who survived the beatings:</p> <p>They beat them with electric wire, an iron rod, in the back and front, the legs, even their eyes. I tried to get them medication because of the pain. It was usually impossible to get any medical assistance. There wasn’t such a thing. But we repeatedly begged. They finally allowed one woman outside the detention center to bring some anti-pain medicine so we could treat their wounds.</p> <p>Four detainees said that a Fano militia member at the prison known as “Shiferaw” called a meeting a few days later and boasted about catching and killing one of the prisoners who had escaped. Shiferaw threatened to do the same to others who attempted to escape. One detainee recalled his threats:</p> <p>Don’t try to escape. If you let one single prisoner escape, I will kill 10 of you. No one would question why I did this. No government official or body can question me. No one would accuse me. It is welcomed by God to kill you. It is not a sin to kill Tigrayans.</p> <p>The bodies were dumped in shallow graves near a shed in the Bet Hintset prison compound or carted away, according to several detainees, including two who had been forced by guards to dig the graves inside the compound.<br /><br /> The August killings terrified some of the detainees. One 62-year-old man said: “I was afraid after this. Since then, we tried to convince others not to escape because we knew what the consequences would be.”<br /><br />Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment<br /><br /> Amhara security forces, militias, and officials tortured, ill-treated, and subjected Tigrayan detainees to inhumane treatment, including beating them with iron pipes, electric wires, and sticks. In Badu Sidiste, a prison that also served as a camp for Amhara Liyu, detainees described being tied in stress positions for long periods, either at night or in the hot sun. “Our hands and legs were tied with a rope, and we were dragged outside in the sun where they beat us with sticks,” said one prisoner. “The [Fano and Amhara Liyu] would make us stay in the sun all day.”</p> They tightened our hands back, they beat us. It is hard for me to explain and remember everything. I was traumatized 17-year-old held in Badu Sidiste prison in Humera town <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p><br /> One farmer held there for four months until his expulsion in January 2023 said he temporarily lost the ability to use his hands. “The guards tied our hands behind our backs for many, many days,” he said. “Because of this I couldn’t feed myself for one month. Other people had to help feed me.”<br /><br /> Detainees repeatedly identified Belay, a security official in Western Tigray, whom Human Rights Watch identified in its April 2022 joint report, as well as another official named Kassahun. They said Belay personally oversaw detention sites in Humera and Rawyan, issued instructions to guards, and took part in beating and interrogating detainees in Badu Sidiste prison. One detainee held in Badu Sidiste said he was beaten and interrogated by officials, including Belay and Kassahun:</p> <p>[Belay and Kassahun] brought me out of the room. They tied my hands behind my back and started beating me. They hit me with their shoes. They asked me many questions, whether I was sending money to Sudan, or calling Sudan … and after many hours, I said “Yes, I would call my wife to hear my son’s voice in Tigray, and I would call my mother in Sudan.” I begged them to kill me, and they said no, you will die here from hunger.</p> <p>A 26-year-old detainee held in an underground room in a military camp known as Enda Quaja, located south of Humera toward Rawyan town, said:</p> <p>The hole was very wide and very dark. After many hours, they take us out to use the toilet. Coming out to the light would blind us. If they wanted to ask us questions, they would tie your arms behind your back and leave you in the sun. Because of this many became paralyzed, or their nerves are not working well.</p> <p>A daily laborer held in Bet Hintset prison said the guards tormented the prisoners:</p> <p>There was the time they selected 14 people. They took us to a narrow room without light, without enough air and left us in there all day. At night … two guards came and started insulting us. One was an Amhara Liyu who said, “It would be nice to kill all of you with this gun.”</p> <p>Detainees also described mistreatment that caused lasting physical and mental harm. A 60-year-old farmer from Rawyan said his son was now blind after being held in a warehouse where berbere (Ethiopian spice blend) was ground. He said: “My son was detained there for 17 days, and then brought to prison with me. He is blind now because of the detention in the berbere warehouse and lack of medication.”<br /><br />Enforced Disappearances<br /><br /> Family members and former detainees also raised concerns about the fate and whereabouts of detainees who were missing and feared forcibly disappeared.</p> On January 5, 2023, the [Fano] called me to the Kebele (administrative office), they didn’t tell me why I was being called. I hoped that my husband would be brought so I could see him, so I could talk to him. Instead, they let me stay there all day. Then at night, they pushed me to central Tigray. 30-year-old woman <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p><br /> One woman said the Fano militia, and Kassahun, the official, extorted payments from her for news about her husband, who was detained in August 2022. She said: “I sold my home property and paid 45,000 Ethiopian Birr [US$850], but they didn’t give me any information. Then after a month, they asked for 100,000 Ethiopian Birr [$1,900] to share information about his whereabouts so I could give him food.” By early January, Fano called her to the local government office in Humera town. “I hoped they would bring my husband so I could see him, so I could talk to him,” she said. That night, Fano expelled her to central Tigray. She has not seen or heard about her husband since.<br /><br /> On October 10, 2022, Belay and officials at Bet Hintset prison asked university educated Tigrayans to volunteer for “training.” One detainee described the desperation among prisoners: “The prisoners thought that they would die if they stayed. If they wanted to kill us, they could kill us anywhere, some said. So, people began registering.”<br /><br /> Another detainee explained the process: “Fifteen volunteered initially, but the officials said this was not enough. So, they called a meeting for the facilitators in each room and asked them to register those with university-level degrees or higher or they would do it forcibly. So, they started to go room and by room and registered people.” The authorities took 56 people away. The other detainees did not see them again and their whereabouts remain unknown.<br /><br />Forcible Expulsions<br /><br /> Forced expulsions of Tigrayans from West Tigray Zone continued after the announcement of the “cessation of hostilities” agreement on November 2. Former detainees said that on the afternoon of November 9, Belay gathered detainees in Badu Sidiste prison for a meeting. “He spoke for one hour,” said one. “He said: ‘This is not your land. This doesn’t belong to you. We will send you to your land.’” Several detainees confirmed that Belay gave a similar speech at several detention sites in Humera on that same day, including Bet Hintset, Badu Sidiste, and Setit police station.<br /><br /> That night, guards gathered detainees at several sites, including Humera, Geter police station, and around Adebai, and beat detainees while forcing them onto dozens of Isuzu FSR medium-duty trucks, and then drove them toward Adi Asr and the northernmost Tekeze bridge, which separates Western Tigray from other parts of Tigray, where they were forcibly expelled. Former detainees said that at least two detainees were killed during the expulsions. One said: “They died not only because of beating, but because they were physically weak from the treatment in detention.” Three detainees added that the bodies were buried around the Tekeze river towards central Tigray, and in Sheraro town.<br /><br /> In January 2023, officials arranged further forcible expulsions of Tigrayan detainees and residents from Western Tigray, including from Badu Sidiste and other prisons. A 40-year-old man was among 11 detainees from Badu Sidiste and 60 others from other detention sites, including Setit and Geter police stations, expelled one night:</p> <p>Belay and his colleague Kassahun came to the prison. They called me separately, they said we had decided to kill you, but now you are lucky, you and other prisoners have the opportunity to go to Tigray. They brought FSR trucks and sent us to Tekeze. After we reached the Tekeze, they told us to take the road until we reached “the place we deserved.”</p> They told us many times that we have to die in hunger. 25-year-old woman from Adebai <p class="pull-quote-block__title text-xs md:text-sm"> </p> <p>By March, Tigrayans remaining in Adebai in Western Tigray felt they had no choice but to leave the town after facing continued threats and harassment. One woman who fled to Sudan in late March said:      </p> <p>The Fanos, and their leader named Belay, would say to us: “You are [Tigrayan], you used Western Tigray as much as possible, for 30 years, but now it is done. You have to leave this place. You can’t live or work here. We will not let you use it; you won’t eat food from here, what you have taken is enough for you.” They told us many times that we have to die of hunger.</p> <p>Recommendations:<br /><br /> To the Ethiopian federal government and regional authorities:</p> Suspend civilian officials, including interim Amhara officials, and security force personnel from the Amhara Special Forces and Ethiopian federal forces implicated in serious abuses in Western Tigray Zone pending investigations into their actions. Investigate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as appropriate, including the three people named in the Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International April 2022 report; Col. Demeke Zewdu, Commander Dejene Maru, and Belay Ayalew. Appropriately prosecute all those responsible for serious human rights abuses in Western Tigray and elsewhere. Facilitate access for independent human rights investigators to Western Tigray, including the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia. Ensure that human rights monitors, including the national Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have access to Western Tigray and other conflict-affected areas, and regularly publicly report on their findings. Establish an independent body, in consultation with displaced communities and relevant UN agencies, that can organize and monitor returns that are safe, voluntary, well-informed, and dignified. <p>To the African Union </p> Ensure that the AU Monitoring Mission publicly reports on protection concerns, rights abuses, and humanitarian access in Western Tigray during its proposed visit in June. <p>To Ethiopia’s partners:</p> Consider imposing targeted financial and visa sanctions on individuals implicated in serious human rights abuses during the conflict in northern Ethiopia and since the truce. Monitor justice and accountability initiatives within Ethiopia and seek greater transparency on government investigations and accountability efforts. Assess reengagement with the Ethiopian federal government based on clear and specific indicators on accountability and justice for victims of serious abuses. Support the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), including by renewing the commission’s mandate at the UN Human Rights Council in September as in-depth, independent investigations into abuses carried out during the conflict remain essential. Support the creation of independent vetting mechanisms to ensure that federal and regional military and police personnel responsible for serious abuses are not reintegrated into the national army or police. Thu, 01 Jun 2023 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Pakistan: Don’t Try Civilians in Military Courts Click to expand Image Paramilitary troops and police officers stand guard outside a court where Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to appear in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 23, 2023.  © 2023 Anjum Naveed/AP Photo <p>(New York) – The Pakistan government should immediately transfer civilians set to be tried in military courts to the civilian justice system, Human Rights Watch said today. Trying civilians before military courts violates Pakistan’s obligations under international human rights law to ensure the due process and fair trial rights of criminal suspects.</p> <p>The Pakistan police have handed 33 civilian suspects over to the army for trial in military courts. The suspects are charged with attacking sensitive defense installations, and damaging or stealing important government equipment, computers, and other sources of data collection. The Pakistan Army Act (PAA), 1952, and Official Secrets Act, 1923 allow trying civilians in military courts only in narrowly defined circumstances, including for inciting mutiny, spying, and taking photographs of “prohibited” places.</p> <p>“The Pakistani government has a responsibility to prosecute those committing violence, but only in independent and impartial civilian courts,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Pakistan’s military courts, which use secret procedures that deny due process rights, should not be used to prosecute civilians, even for crimes against the military.”</p> <p>Violence swept across Pakistan on May 9, 2023 after the police arrested former Prime Minister Imran Khan on corruption charges. Many of Khan’s supporters attacked police officers and set fire to ambulances, police vehicles, and schools. Among the places attacked were the military headquarters and other offices in Rawalpindi and the houses of senior military officials.</p> <p>Following the clashes, the police arrested thousands of members of Khan’s political party, Tehrik-i-Insaaf, on charges of criminal intimidation, rioting, and assault on government officials.</p> <p>Many have been charged under vague and overbroad laws prohibiting rioting and creating threats to public order. All those arrested merely for their political affiliation should be released immediately and any charges dropped.</p> <p>The government said that those arrested and charged with acts of violence will face trials in civilian courts, except for those who broke into and entered restricted access military installations, who will be tried in military courts. According to the government, these defendants will have the right of appeal to the civilian high courts and Supreme Court.</p> <p>Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees everyone the right to a trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body authorized to monitor compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that the “trial of civilians in military or special courts may raise serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice is concerned,” and that “trials of civilians by military or special courts should be exceptional, i.e. limited to cases where the State party can show that resorting to such trials is necessary and justified by objective and serious reasons, and where … regular civilian courts are unable to undertake the trials.”</p> <p>International human rights standards provide no basis for Pakistani authorities to try these cases in military courts, especially as the civilian courts are functioning, Human Rights Watch said. Pakistan’s military court judges are serving officials and are not independent from the government. In the past, no independent monitoring of military trials in Pakistan has been allowed. Defendants have often been denied copies of judgments with the evidence and reasoning in the verdicts in their cases.</p> <p>“Denying people a fair trial is not the answer to Pakistan’s complex security and political challenges,” Gossman said. “Strengthening the civilian courts and upholding the rule of law is the message the Pakistani government should send as an effective and powerful response to violence.”<br />  </p> Wed, 31 May 2023 09:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch No Joking Allowed in Vietnam Click to expand Image The wife, two brothers, and friends of Bui Tuan Lam gather in Da Nang city, Vietnam, to demand his freedom, May 2023. © 2023 Le Thanh Lam <p>The Ministry of Public Security has no sense of humor.</p> <p>Bui Tuan Lam became famous in November 2021 for making a parody video of himself imitating the celebrity chef known as Salt Bae, who days before had gone viral in Vietnam after spreading salt over a US$2,000 gold-encrusted steak and feeding it to Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam. In his video, Bui Tuan Lam replaces the gold encrusted steak with everyday sliced pork, green onions, and noodle soup. This video also went viral, earning Bui Tuan Lam the moniker “Green Onion Bae”, at the minister’s expense.</p> <p>The minister’s men were quick to retaliate. Police harassed and threatened Bui Tuan Lam, 39, placed him under intrusive surveillance, summoned, and interrogated him, and pressured him to close his sidewalk noodle soup shop. In September 2022, the long-time rights activist was arrested on bogus charges of “propaganda against the state.”</p> <p>Police kept him incommunicado for more than seven months, with the prosecutors claiming that he didn’t want legal counsel. When Bui Tuan Lam’s wife, Le Thanh Lam, successfully challenged this, the authorities retaliated by refusing to let her attend her husband’s May 25 trial in Da Nang. She still showed up outside the court, where police apprehended, manhandled, and dragged her in the street, injuring her legs. She said that police detained her for several hours, “searched every inch on my body” and “treated me as if I were no longer human.” They released her that evening, long after the trial had finished.</p> <p>The debacle continued inside the court. The judge ordered a defense lawyer, Ngo Anh Tuan, removed from the courtroom before he could even finish his argument.</p> <p>There was little suspense whether Bui Tuan Lam would be convicted on the politically motivated charges. The provincial court sentenced him to five and a half years in prison, plus four years’ probation, severely restricting his freedom of movement long after he completes his prison term.</p> <p>Minister To Lam got his revenge by muzzling a critic, but that won’t salvage his reputation. Vietnamese only need to be reminded of his lavishing thousands of dollars on a steak while ordinary people struggled amidst the Covid-19 economic downturn and rampant inflation.</p> <p>The cruel and outrageous sentence against Bui Tuan Lam and his wife’s mistreatment will only amplify the Vietnamese government’s unrestrained abuses.</p> Wed, 31 May 2023 09:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Kenya: End Abusive Policing of Protests Click to expand Image A riot police officer fires tear gas at protesters during a mass rally called by the opposition leader Raila Odinga over the high cost of living, in Nairobi, Monday, March 27, 2023. © 2023 AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi <p>(Nairobi) – Nearly two months since a series of nationwide protests began, Kenyan authorities have failed to take sufficient action to hold police officers and their commanders to account for killings and attacks on protesters and other people, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya said today.<br /><br /> The Independent Policing  Oversight Authority (IPOA) should urgently conclude their investigations into all deaths and the apparent unjustified use of force by the police, and all relevant authorities including the national police service, should publicly guarantee the right of everyone to peaceful assembly and protest in future, both organizations said.<br /><br /> In August 2022, Kenya held a disputed election, which resulted in the formation of a new government by President William Ruto. On March 9, 2023, Raila Odinga, leader of the opposing Azimio coalition, made a speech calling on Ruto’s government to address the high cost of living and alleged fraud in the 2022 elections, among other issues. The first protests began on March 20, 2023, with Odinga announcing further biweekly demonstrations.<br /><br /> In mid-April, bipartisan talks between the government and the opposition stalled and protests re-started on May 2. The next day, Odinga announced a suspension of the demonstrations to allow engagement with Ruto’s government, promising further demonstrations should the talks fail.<br /><br /> “Kenyan authorities should stop glossing over the abuse of protesters by the police and other acts of violence,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “They should urgently and thoroughly investigate police abuse during recent protests, including the failure to protect demonstrators from attacks by others.”<br /><br /> Between April 7 and 17, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya interviewed 115 witnesses and victims of police violence during protests in Nairobi and the towns of Kisumu, Migori, and Homa Bay. The organizations found that the authorities deployed riot police who repeatedly attacked people or otherwise used excessive and unnecessary force, including lethal force, to suppress the protests on March 20, 27, and 30. The groups documented killings, illegal arrests, beatings, destruction of civilian property, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannons, and other serious rights violations.<br /><br /> News media, the national human rights commission, and civil society documented various rights violations by the authorities during the March protests. They also condemned the declaration by President Ruto, the government, and police officials that the protests were illegal during the March upheavals.<br /><br /> Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya corroborated 12 killings in interviews with family members and witnesses. While some of the victims were involved in the protest, most of the 12, according to the witnesses interviewed, were bystanders, passersby, or people in their homes and business premises. In a few instances in Kisumu and Nairobi, multiple sources said that police fired live bullets in residential areas and inside classrooms in schools and colleges.<br /><br /> In one case, relatives of Elijah Okumu, 26, said the police shot him during the protests on March 27 as he was closing his shop in Dandora neighborhood, Nairobi. Relatives rushed Okumu to Mama Lucy Hospital in eastern Nairobi and later transferred him to Kenyatta National Hospital, where he died from his injuries.<br /><br /> A relative said the family reported the killing to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority but that as far they have been able to determine, there has been no investigation of the killing.<br /><br /> Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Kenya also documented about 30 cases of gunshot injuries in Kisumu and Nairobi.<br /><br /> In one case, the police arrested, beat, and shot a secondary school student, Brian Carlos Oduor, in Korumba in the Riat neighborhood of Kisumu on March 30, on suspicion that he was a protester. Oduor and witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya said that at the time of his arrest he was carrying a gas cylinder, which he told police officers he was going to refill.<br /><br /> The officers threw him out of their Land Cruiser vehicle and had begun kicking him when a gunshot went off, and Oduor realized he had been shot in his lower left arm. The police officers then fled, leaving Oduor injured and alone. He received first aid from passersby, who rushed him to a hospital for treatment.<br /><br /> Researchers also documented a brutal police crackdown on journalists from various media outlets who were covering the March 30 protests on Outering Road near the Pipeline estate in Nairobi. The journalists said the police tried to prevent them from live streaming the protest and used water cannons to destroy cameras, harassed some journalists, and forced others to delete footage. The journalists said they felt targeted, frightened, and unable to help people who were injured.<br /><br /> “The demonstrations were peaceful, people were chanting, people were happy, waving. But now reaching to where the police were, they [the police] threw tear gas,” one journalist said. “Vehicles and protesters on foot were blocked from either side by the police with no exit route. The air was suddenly filled with tear gas and colored water … we were trapped and gasping for air.”<br /><br /> Police also fired tear gas into residential neighborhoods including people’s homes and schools, which affected people’s health and led to the death of at least two children, witnesses said. Joyce Kemunto, 39, said she lost her 4-month-old daughter after police shot tear gas in Kibera, Nairobi on March 30.<br /><br /> “When the tear gas was thrown, some of the canisters landed on the roof and the smoke came inside where my 4-month-old baby, Precious, was,” she said. “My baby started crying. I took a cloth and water and began wiping her face alongside my other children … There was nowhere to go outside because tear gas was being thrown everywhere. So, we stayed inside, and the baby cried until she stopped breastfeeding.” She said that the baby’s condition worsened, and she started bleeding from her nose, and died on the way to a hospital.<br /><br /> Similarly, 31-year-old Jackline Moraa from Kibera, Nairobi lost her youngest son on April 4, following exposure to tear gas after police threw tear gas into their neighborhood on March 30. She said doctors at Mbagathi Hospital suspected that the tear gas had affected his chest, leading to breathing difficulties.<br /><br /> While the protests appear to have been mostly peaceful, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya found that some individuals committed grave acts of violence during the protests, including theft, looting, and attempted rapes and caused grievous bodily harm. While the media have reported some arrests, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya found that police failed to intervene to stop the violence or to investigate in some cases.<br /><br /> Ali Said, 17, said he was attacked by a group of protesters with crude weapons in Kaloleni, Kisumu on March 27. Said said the protesters beat him severely and cut his stomach with a knife. He was later rescued by a [motorcycle] rider, who rushed him to the hospital. He reported the attack to the police, but said he was not aware of any police actions or investigations into his case.<br /><br /> The rights to life, peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights, guaranteed under Kenya’s Constitution as well as international human rights treaties to which Kenya is bound, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.<br /><br /> The UN Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms allow the police to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate objective. Forces should only use tear gas when necessary to prevent further physical harm and where possible issue an advance warning. During violent protests, use of tear gas must be proportional to the seriousness of the offense, must meet a legitimate law enforcement objective, and should be used in a way that minimizes the risk of harm. The deliberate use of lethal force is only permissible when it is strictly necessary to protect life.<br /><br /> Amnesty International Kenya and Human Rights Watch have independently and jointly previously documented political interference in efforts to achieve accountability for police abuses, as well as investigative failures by the oversight authority, lack of police cooperation, lack of political will to end the abuses and ensure accountability, and stalled police reforms.<br /><br /> Guaranteeing budgetary independence of the police service and Independent Policing Oversight Authority are key to ensuring independence of the two institutions and will go a long way toward achieving police reforms including accountability for abuse, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Kenya said.<br /><br /> “Brutal policing of protests guaranteed under our constitution is unacceptable,” said Irũngũ Houghton, executive director at Amnesty International Kenya. “Kenyan authorities need to take meaningful steps to preempt violent protests by facilitating the right to assembly and hold officers criminally accountable for unlawful policing. Failure to act on the March brutality opens the door to more violence in future.”<br /><br /></p> Wed, 31 May 2023 02:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Gulf States: Migrant Workers at Serious Risk from Dangerous Heat Click to expand Image Workers clean the exterior of the Museum of the Future, currently under construction, in Dubai on November 19, 2020. © Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images <p>Clarification 6/2/2023: This news release has been revised to clarify that adopting the 2021 Qatar legislation is not in itself adequate. </p> <p>(Beirut) – Migrant workers in Gulf Cooperation Council countries lack sufficient health and safety protection from the region’s extreme summertime heat and humidity, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>Extreme heat exposure is a serious health hazard. It can cause heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, which can be fatal or have lifelong consequences. Outdoor workers, including in construction and agriculture, are disproportionately exposed to these dangers. As a starting point, all Gulf countries should adopt and enforce the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index as the standard for imposing work limitations during periods of extreme heat, implement occupational heat safety and health measures to protect workers, and end the abusive kafala system, that gives disproportionate power to employers.</p> <p>“Despite substantial scientific evidence on the devastating health impact of exposure to extreme heat, Gulf states’ protection failures are causing millions of migrant workers to face grave risks, including death,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Gulf states should prioritize creating a comprehensive strategy to address occupational heat stress, and international organizations that claim to champion international labor rights should speak out about the issue.”</p> <p>Between 2021 and 2023, Human Rights Watch interviewed 90 migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Kenya, and Nepal about heat and health safety issues in three Gulf countries: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While all workers in the Gulf face the risks of exposure to extreme heat, in practice it is migrant workers who are overwhelmingly exposed to the most dangerous working conditions in the region.</p> <p>Researchers found that workers faced serious and chronic health conditions that could result from extreme heat exposure. Workers were unable to sufficiently recuperate from the heat, in part due to a lack of sufficient rest areas and air-conditioned accommodations, and workers were not always allowed to set a safe pace. These work conditions cumulatively often lead to serious consequences, including heat-related deaths.</p> <p>The average temperatures in the Gulf during summer months can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius, (104 degrees Fahrenheit) with temperatures climbing to 55 degrees Celsius at over 80 percent humidity. All Gulf states apply a summer midday work ban that prohibits employers from continuing outdoor work during pre-defined times and months. Qatar's 2021 legislation goes further, at least on paper, as it prohibits any outdoor work when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) rises beyond 32.1 degrees Celsius.</p> <p>The WBGT is a widely used index that measures occupational heat stress based on air temperature and relative humidity – the “threshold” temperature for what a healthy person can endure for several hours is estimated to be around 30 C and 31 C in warm humid environments, according to one academic study. While serious enforcement gaps remain, the 2021 Qatari legislation is a positive foundation because the wet-bulb temperature is a more accurate tool for monitoring heat stress risks.</p> <p>Health experts and rights groups have criticized multiple aspects of Qatar’s 2021 legislation, including that the 32.1 degrees Celsius Wet Bulb Global Temperature (WBGT) threshold is set too high to effectively protect workers. Qatar and other GCC countries should adopt the WBGT index and apply corresponding guidelines that impose work stoppages that effectively protect workers, Human Rights Watch said. “At work [in Qatar], we had to pour out sweat from our shoes,” a former construction worker said. “Our socks and t-shirts would become so soaked that we had to wring them out multiple times a day.”Multiple studies focusing on heat exposure risks in Gulf states found a strong correlation between heat stress and deaths due to cardiovascular problems and indicated that extremely hot days are associated with higher mortality risk, with migrant workers disproportionately exposed.</p> <p>The heat risks go well beyond the protections in Gulf states’ summer work hour bans offered to workers, including migrant workers, as extreme heat conditions often occur outside the ban months and during morning and evening hours in summer months. A study in Kuwait found a substantial increase in the risk of occupational injuries associated with extremely hot temperatures despite the ban. Another study found that the highest heat intensity for workers in Saudi Arabia was from 9 a.m. to noon, while the ban is in effect between noon and 3 p.m.</p> <p>A UAE returnee said, “While the company never tried to make us work during the summer afternoons, people would still fall ill or faint earlier in the mornings, between 10 am and 12 noon.” Another said, “[Even] excluding these three hours… the air is as hot as fire.”</p> <p>Climate change further exacerbates the problem. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Gulf states’ “extreme wet-bulb temperatures are expected to approach, and possibly exceed, the physiological threshold for human adaptability (35°C).”</p> <p>Governments are also failing to enforce the inadequate heat protections they have in place. Many workers said their companies comply with summer ban hours and fear authorities' inspection visits, but several also violate the rules partially or fully. A UAE returnee said: “Sometimes the employer made us continue the work [during summer ban hours] secretly. In such cases, we used to deploy some workers to guard if someone from the government or inspection department came.” Migrant workers also raised concerns about difficulties in trying to rest, rehydrate, and recover, with companies often defying occupational safety and health regulations, standards, or guidelines.</p> <p>While some companies provide air-conditioned resting rooms during breaks or allow workers to rest in their housing accommodations, other employers do not. Two road construction workers in the UAE said they built their own temporary structure using a tarp and rods. The absence of cooling areas also affects workers' food and water intake, which are critical for workers doing strenuous outdoor work. “We used to bring home-cooked lunches in plastic bags, but they would often spoil in the heat and had to be thrown away,” said a UAE-based worker.</p> <p>Despite the importance of hydration, workers often had to get their own water from public places, like mosques, or buy it. One worker said, “They [the company] put a drum of water on site, which became hot very fast. The hot water did not quench our thirst.” Other companies provided cooling water stations with electrolyte powder, lemons, and salt.</p> <p>Migrant workers also said that their commuting and accommodation arrangements affected their ability to recover from the workday’s exposure to extreme heat. One construction worker from the UAE said: “I finish work at 5 pm but have to wait for the company bus until 7 pm, so I don’t get back to my camp until 9 pm …[when I go to sleep] it’s close to midnight, only to wake up at 4:30 the next morning. I don’t feel well-rested.” Another said that night rotations, while relatively cooler but still humid, still pose risks to health and safety. “Sleeping during the day can never substitute for a good night’s sleep so I always feel tired.”</p> <p>A Saudi-based worker spoke about dilapidated air conditioners in labor camps: “I was told [by the manager] it will only be repaired if I agree to deduct the amount from my salary.” Another Qatar-based worker had a similar experience: “The air conditioning would frequently break down and we would tell our foreman, but help would not come for days. Without air conditioning, the overcrowded rooms with up to 10 people would become unbearable. The only way to sleep was out of exhaustion.”</p> <p>Workers faced various health issues, including nosebleeds, chest pain, fever, dizziness, dehydration, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, heat rashes, and urinary tract infections that they believe were linked to working in extreme heat.</p> <p>“One day I fainted at work,” a worker in Saudi Arabia said. “Colleagues took me to the resting room … and poured water on my head. Within minutes I was conscious. I rested for a while and started working again because my colleagues told me this is very common. Whenever there is such an incident, if it is not major, everyone starts working after resting for some time.”</p> <p>Several workers said that they continued working because they did not want to forego earnings or because they had to pay fully or partially for hospital bills. “Most workers avoided taking sick leave because no work means no pay,” one worker said. Self-pacing and maintaining work-rest schedules, which are useful heat mitigation strategies, can be difficult under abusive supervisors or in time-bound employment projects. Under a kafala, or sponsorship, system, and with common abuses like usurious loans to pay recruitment fees, workers instead over-exert themselves.</p> <p>The failure to protect workers from heat stress also has longer-term health risks, including deaths, which have been widely documented. Human Rights Watch has been pressing for independent investigations of deaths, adequate compensation to families of deceased workers, and government and employer responsiveness to worker grievances, including safety and health risks. Deaths that are not attributed to work-related causes, which exclude adverse health outcomes attributed to heat exposure, are not eligible for compensation under labor laws in Gulf countries, and life insurance seldom covers these deaths, Human Rights Watch found. One such case is of Ram Pukar Sahani, whose father dropped dead in Qatar at a construction work site in his work uniform, but was ineligible for compensation because his death certificate read, “acute heart failure due to natural death.”</p> <p>“Gulf states’ failure to protect migrant workers from lethal heat has come at a high cost to migrant workers and their families, including loss of lives and chronic illnesses,” Page said. “To knowingly put migrant workers in harm's way without substantial protections from heat is inhumane, and Gulf states need to act with urgency ahead of the scorching summer to address these problems.”</p> <p>The following table is adapted from</p> GCC State Midday Ban Hours and Ban Dates Penalty for Violations Legislation  Penalty Bahrain 12:00 - 4:00 pm between July 1-August 31 "a. Prison sentence for a period not exceeding three months.<br /> b. Fine of no less than 500 Bahraini Dinars and not exceeding 1,000 Bahrain Dinars or by either penalty." Ministerial Decision No. 3 of 2013  Penalty in Article 192 of the Labor Law Kuwait 11:00 am – 4:00 pm from June 1- August 31 "a. Violators shall be warned that they should remedy their violation within a period that shall be specified by the Ministry, provided that such period shall not exceed three months.<br /> b. In the event where the violator does not remedy the violation within the specified period, he shall be subject to a fine of not less than 100 Kuwaiti Dinars, and not more than 200 Kuwaiti Dimar for each of the workers who are involved in the violation. In the event of repeated violation within three years from the date of the final judgment, the punishment shall be doubled." Ministerial Decision No. 189/L of 2012, amended by Ministerial Decision No. 212/L of 2012  Penalty in Article 141 of the Labor Law Oman 12:30 pm – 3:30 pm from June 1 – August 31  "a. A fine of R.O. 500/-. The fine may be doubled according to the number of Women Jeureniles employed in violation the provisions.<br /> b. If the same incident is repeated after one year of the the employer may be subject to maximum of one month imprisonment in addition to the fine." Ministerial Decision No. (286) of 2008, Penalty in Article 118 of the Labor Law Amended by Ministerial Decision No. 322 of 2011 Qatar 10:00 am – 3:30 pm from June 1 – September 15   "In case of violation of the provisions of this Decision, a workplace may be shut down, in part or in whole, by a decision of the Minister." Ministerial Decision No.17 for 2021    Saudi Arabia 12:00pm - 3:00 pm from June 15 – September 15  "a) A fine not exceeding 100,000 riyals.<br /> b) Closure of the firm for a period not exceeding 30 days.<br /> c) Permanent closure of the firm.<br /> 2. The penalty imposed on the violator may be doubled in the case of repetition.<br /> 3. Fines shall be multiplied by the number of persons subject of the violation." Ministerial Decision No.17 for 2021  Penalty in Article 236 of the Labour law Later amended in 2015 to Article 229 UAE 12:30 – 3:00 pm from June 15 – September 25   "a. Fine of AED 5,000 per worker, and a maximum of AED 50,000 in case several workers are employed during the ban.<br /> b. The breaching establishment will have its file suspended or its status downgraded in the MOHRE classification system adopted by the Ministry, based on how grave the breach is." Announcement decision by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation    Wed, 31 May 2023 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Brazil’s Lula Misses Crucial Chance to Uphold Rights in Venezuela Click to expand Image Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva smile at a press conference after their bilateral meeting at Planalto palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 29, 2023.  © 2023 Gustavo Moreno/AP Photo <p>After meeting with Nicolás Maduro this week, Brazil’s President Lula implied that democracy is thriving in Venezuela and called the undermining of democratic institutions there a “constructed narrative.” As someone who recently survived efforts to overthrow Brazil’s democracy, it was frustrating to see him fawning over Venezuela’s repressive ruler.</p> <p>It’s no secret that the Maduro government has seized control of Venezuela’s legislature and subordinated the judiciary. Election monitors have documented conditions undermining the fairness and transparency of recent elections. There have been 15,700 politically motivated arrests since 2014, with more than 280 political detainees being held now. Human Rights Watch and Venezuelan organizations have documented crackdowns on protesters, torture of detainees, and prosecutions of civilians in military courts. The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor has opened an investigation into such crimes. President Lula likely knows all of this.</p> <p>Maduro’s government has also spurred one of the largest migration crises in the world: 7.2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014, close to six million to other Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Brazil. The United Nations has reported that undernourishment in Venezuela is highest in the region, affecting 6.5 million people. Human Rights Watch has documented the collapse of Venezuela’s health system.</p> <p>Various world leaders have met with President Maduro in recent months and positioned themselves to play a mediating role in any negotiations toward the restoration of democracy. But by parroting the Maduro government’s talking points, President Lula aligned himself with Maduro’s authoritarian allies and missed a chance to help lead Venezuela out of a massive humanitarian and human rights crisis.</p> <p>At this week’s meeting in Brasilia, Presidents Lacalle Pou of Uruguay and Gabriel Boric of Chile, leaders from opposite ideological ends, took aim at Lula’s comments. President Boric said the suffering of Venezuelans was a “reality,” not a “construct,” and that he had “seen it in the eyes” of the hundreds of thousands taking refuge in Chile.</p> <p>President Lula should pursue every chance to restore the leadership his ill-considered comments undermined and fulfill his promise to lead on human rights worldwide. The Venezuelan emergency and the migration crisis it has generated will continue to be an important topic whenever South American leaders meet.</p> <p>President Lula should show support for the Venezuelan people: the political prisoners, the threatened journalists, the sick and hungry, the migrants and refugees, and seize every opportunity to reframe his stance on Venezuela.</p> Tue, 30 May 2023 18:44:16 -0400 Human Rights Watch Uganda’s President Signs Repressive Anti-LGBT Law Click to expand Image Ugandan Members of Parliament stand as they participate during the passing of the anti-Homosexuality bill, at a sitting inside the Parliament Buildings in Kampala, Uganda, May 2, 2023.  © 2023 Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters <p>Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has signed a bill criminalizing same sex conduct, including potentially the death penalty for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” into law.</p> <p>The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 violates multiple fundamental rights guaranteed under Uganda’s constitution and breaks commitments made by the government as a signatory to a number of international human rights agreements.</p> <p>Uganda’s penal code already punishes same-sex conduct with life imprisonment – a criminal offense that is rarely prosecuted – but the new law creates new crimes such as the vaguely worded “promotion of homosexuality” and introduces the death penalty for several acts considered as “aggravated homosexuality.” It also increases the prison sentence for attempted same-sex conduct to 10 years.</p> <p>The law discriminates against people with disabilities, contrary to Uganda’s Constitution, by making the offence of homosexuality aggravated if the “victim” has a disability, thereby denying persons with disabilities the capacity to consent to sex. Anyone advocating for the rights of LGBT people, including representatives of human rights organizations or those providing financial support to organizations that do so, could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment for the “promotion of homosexuality.”</p> <p>Violence and discrimination against LGBT people is already prevalent in Uganda. After the government passed the now scrapped 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, Human Rights Watch research found that people faced a notable increase in arbitrary arrests, police abuse, extortion, loss of employment, discriminatory evictions by landlords, and reduced access to health services because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Over the years, Ugandan police have carried out mass arrests at LGBT pride events, at LGBT-friendly bars, and at homeless shelters on spurious grounds, and forced some detainees to undergo anal examinations, a form of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can, in some instances, constitute torture.</p> <p>The authorities have also failed to investigate a string of break-ins into the offices of nongovernmental organizations, including those providing services to LGBTI people. On August 3, 2022, the government banned Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a prominent LGBT rights organization, from operating for not having officially registered with it.</p> <p>Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill is a serious blow to multiple fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association, privacy, equality, and nondiscrimination. The Ugandan government is obligated to guarantee these rights for all people, including sexual minorities. It should take steps to create an environment that prevents violence and discrimination against LGBT people, in Uganda and the region.</p> Tue, 30 May 2023 14:52:03 -0400 Human Rights Watch India: Investigate Police Bias Alleged in Manipur Violence Click to expand Image A vehicle burned during ethnic violence in Imphal, Manipur, India, May 4, 2023.  © 2023 AFP via Getty images <p>(New York) – Indian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate ongoing killings by ethnic groups and security forces in India’s northeastern Manipur state and work with community leaders to restore security, Human Rights Watch said today. Renewed violence on May 28, 2023, resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, in separate incidents.</p> <p>Violent clashes, largely between the ethnic Meitei and Kuki communities, have left at least 70 people dead and 35,000 displaced, and destroyed over 1,700 houses, according to media reports. The Manipur government has ordered an extension of restrictions on internet services, in place since May 3, until at least May 31. Manipur’s chief minister, N. Biren Singh, said that security forces have killed 40 alleged militants from the Kuki tribal community, a claim local groups dispute.</p> <p>“The violence in Manipur state since early May has left communities devastated, and it’s crucial for the government to restore order in a rights-respecting manner and hold to account those responsible for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Accounts of partisan involvement by security forces in the killings has increased distrust of the authorities, who should work with community leaders to end the violence.”</p> <p>The violence in Manipur erupted on May 3, after thousands of people from tribal groups protested plans to give the majority Meitei community protected status as a Scheduled Tribe, asserting that the community already enjoys advantages in the state. The classification, a form of affirmative action to correct historical and structural inequity and discrimination, provides quotas in government jobs and college admissions.</p> <p>The Manipur High Court had directed the state government in April to consider including the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list. Meitei representatives say that they are not able to buy land in areas occupied by tribal groups, and told the court that the Scheduled Tribe status would help preserve their community and “save the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language.”</p> <p>The protest, which included Kukis, one of the larger tribal communities in Manipur, who live primarily in hill areas, turned violent with clashes between various ethnic and religious groups. Some looted weapons and ammunition from police stations, which made the clashes even more deadly.</p> <p>Tensions had been simmering for several months between the Kuki community, which is predominantly Christian, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-run state government. The BJP promotes Hindu majoritarianism and most Meiteis are Hindu. Local activists accused groups affiliated with the government of targeting Kuki properties, businesses, and churches.</p> <p>“The BJP is playing divisive politics in the state because of its own ideology,” one activist told Human Rights Watch. “Even Christian Meiteis are being targeted.” The authorities had earlier evicted tribal villagers from forest areas, accused Kukis of illegal poppy cultivation and of being “outsiders,” and ordered the demolition of three churches in Imphal, saying they had been constructed illegally.</p> <p>Following the recent violence, 10 Kuki legislators–including 8 from the BJP–called for a separate administration for the hill areas, saying “the state of Manipur has miserably failed to protect us.”</p> <p>The Christians Goodwill Council in Churachandpur district in Manipur reported that over 200 churches have been burned or destroyed in the violence between May 3 and 15. Kuki community members have accused the police of siding with the Meitei community, alleging they did not protect them, and at times, even joined the mobs. The Manipur police has denied any bias.</p> <p>The Manipur violence prompted United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk to say that the Indian government should “respond to the situation quickly, including by investigating and addressing root causes of the violence in line with their international human rights obligations.”</p> <p>The Manipur government’s complete internet blackout has severely hindered information gathering and reporting by the media and civil society groups. The Editors Guild of Manipur and All Manipur Working Journalists Union called on the government restore internet services.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the authorities throughout India to end broad, indiscriminate internet shutdowns. The shutdowns undermine a range of fundamental rights including to receive and impart information, express views on political issues, contact relatives, access medical care, and conduct e-commerce, online banking, and other economic activities.</p> <p>The Manipur government said that shutting down the internet was necessary to stop the “spread of disinformation and false rumours” and to prevent “mobilization of mobs.” But, as UN human rights experts said in a 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, even in times of conflict, “using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch said that the local authorities in Manipur should abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide that security forces use the minimum necessary force at all times. In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when other less harmful means are not practicable but must still be used to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally resort to lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect life. When death or serious injury occurs, a detailed report should be promptly sent to the competent authorities.</p> <p>“The Manipur authorities need to respond to the undeniably complex situation by addressing the concerns of local communities impartially and with maximum restraint from the security forces,” Ganguly said. “Labeling members of a community militants and shutting down the internet can fuel further violence through rumor and fearmongering.”</p> Tue, 30 May 2023 14:10:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Yemen: Houthis Forcibly Disappear Baha’is Click to expand Image Armed Houthi gunmen stormed a peaceful Baha’i annual general meeting in Sanaa, Yemen, detaining at least 17 including 5 women, May 25, 2023. © 2023 Private <p>(Beirut) – Armed Houthi forces stormed a private residence in Sanaa, Yemen on May 25, 2023, where Yemeni Baha’is were meeting, and detained and subsequently disappeared 17 people, Human Rights Watch said today. The Baha’is, a religious community and a minority in Yemen, have faced ongoing persecution by the Houthis, the de facto authorities in Sana’a, the capital, and much of Yemen.</p> <p>“Houthi authorities’ flagrant targeting of Baha’is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs is a clear violation of their human rights,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They should immediately reveal the condition and whereabouts of the detained Baha’is, release everyone detained solely for the peaceful religious practice, and respect the rights of all Yemenis to freedom of expression and belief.”</p> <p>The Baha’i International Community (BIC), a nongovernmental group that represents Baha’is worldwide, said that the meeting was an annual gathering to elect the Yemeni Baha’i community’s national governing body. Seventeen people were there, while several others joined remotely via Zoom.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch spoke with one individual who witnessed the storming of the meeting via Zoom. He recorded a part of the incident, and the Baha’i International Community subsequently shared the video on Twitter. He told Human Rights Watch that about 15 minutes into the meeting, just as they were finishing introductions, he suddenly heard a loud bang, which he described as “like a door being knocked in,” and then shouting in the background.</p> <p>He said that people at the meeting looked frightened and stood up, and then four armed men wearing Houthi uniforms entered, pushed people further into the room, and barred them from leaving. The video clip he shared appears to show Houthi forces entering the room and forcing people there to sit down.</p> <p>“I heard screaming and crying voices in the background. I saw their faces … they were shocked and some of them automatically raised their hands,” he said. Shortly afterward, one of the Houthi men apparently closed the laptop, and the person on Zoom no longer was able to see what was happening.</p> <p>According to the Baha’i International Community, all 17 people were detained and driven away. Houthi authorities have not responded to the victims’ families’ requests for information about the whereabouts of their loved ones, making it likely that they have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Nader Al-Sakkaf, the executive secretary of the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha'is of Yemen, a Yemeni Baha’i advocacy group, shared on Twitter that “[t]he BIC has also been alerted to other incidents suggesting that the raid may be the first of more attempts by security to target Baha’is across Houthi-controlled Yemen.”</p> <p>The recent events are part of what the United Nations expert on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, previously described as a “persistent pattern of persecution” of the Baha’is by the Houthis. Abdel Malek Al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi movement, gave a speech in 2018 in which he called Baha’is “infidels,” and “urged Yemenis to defend their country from the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities.”</p> <p>Houthis have systematically arrested and disappeared Baha’is and forced Baha’is into exile. In 2016, Houthi authorities raided a Baha’i educational conference in Sana’a and arrested over 60 men, women, and children. Later, in 2018, the Houthis charged 24 people, at least 22 of them Baha’i, with espionage and apostasy in a Houthi-run court without due process. The cases all remain active today. In 2020, the Houthis released six Baha’is who had been wrongly detained for several years but subsequently forced them into exile.</p> <p>Many other members of the Yemeni Baha’i community have similarly been forced into exile to escape persecution. The Baha’i member who spoke with Human Rights Watch and witnessed the raid via Zoom said that his name was on the list of 24 people wrongly charged with espionage and apostasy, which forced him and his family to flee the country. He said that “many were forced to relocate to new houses, sometimes to new cities,” and that they have all needed to “keep a low profile.”</p> <p>The recent attack on the peaceful gathering further underscores the urgent need for international pressure to address the Houthis’ ongoing persecution faced by the Baha’i community, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>“The Houthis have systematically violated the rights of minorities in Yemen and show no sign of letting up on the pressure,” Jafarnia said. “The international community should stand in solidarity with the Baha’i community and exert pressure on the Houthi authorities to release the detained people immediately.”</p> Tue, 30 May 2023 12:05:48 -0400 Human Rights Watch Brazil: Reject Harmful Bill on Indigenous Rights Click to expand Image Indigenous peoples demonstrate in front of Brazil's Congress to call for greater protection of their land rights at the Free Land Camp ("Acampamento Terra Livre," in Portuguese) in Brasília, an annual protest held by Indigenous peoples from throughout Brazil, on April 26, 2023.   © 2023 Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil <p>(São Paulo) – Brazil’s Congress should reject a draft bill that would impose an arbitrary cutoff date curtailing the right of Indigenous peoples to their traditional land. Brazil’s lower house is expected to vote in the coming days on Bill 490/2007, which would prevent Indigenous communities from obtaining title of their lands if they were not physically present on them on October 5, 1988, the day Brazil’s current Constitution was adopted.</p> <p>If the cutoff date becomes law, Indigenous peoples who were expelled from their territory before October 1988 and cannot prove they were involved in an ongoing dispute over their claim on that date would not be able to secure legal recognition of their lands. Indigenous peoples who face difficulties proving their physical presence would also face barriers to recognition of their land rights.</p> <p>“Indigenous land rights don’t begin or end on an arbitrary date,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “Approving this bill would be an inconceivable setback, would violate human rights, and would signal that Brazil is not living up to its commitments to protect the communities that are proven to best protect our forests.”</p> <p>On May 24, 2023, the lower house of Brazil’s Congress approved a request to speed up the process of reviewing the bill. If approved by the lower house, the bill would then go to the senate. The maneuver seems to be an attempt to influence a long-awaited decision by the Supreme Court on the legality of the 1988 cutoff date. On June 7, the Court will resume consideration of the case and may issue its final ruling.</p> <p>In 2017, during the administration of former President Michel Temer, the Solicitor General’s Office adopted a legal opinion that upheld the 1988 cutoff date, but the Court suspended its implementation in 2020, pending its final ruling. Human Rights Watch has previously urged the new Solicitor General Jorge Messias, appointed by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to repudiate the position, known in Brazil as the “time frame” argument, and urge the Supreme Court to uphold Indigenous rights.</p> <p>President Lula has committed to protecting the environment rights of Indigenous people. He has created a new Indigenous Peoples Ministry and resumed titling of their lands. However, his government has sent mixed signals on the cutoff date. While the minister of Indigenous people and the head of the Indigenous affairs agency have strongly rejected it, Lula’s agriculture minister defended it during an interview for a talk show and the solicitor general has failed to revoke the 2017 legal opinion.</p> <p>Brazil’s Constitution recognizes Indigenous people’s right to “the lands they traditionally occupy,” without any time limits or arbitrary cutoff dates, and states that it is incumbent upon the federal government to demarcate Indigenous territories and to protect them. The uncertainty over titling makes Indigenous territories particularly vulnerable to encroachment by people involved in illegal land-grabbing and environmental crimes, fueling conflicts over land and violence against Indigenous peoples.</p> <p>Several demarcation requests have been pending for decades in Brazil. The bill expressly states that its provisions would apply to all those pending cases, which would aggravate the situation by delaying demarcation even more or preventing it altogether.</p> <p>Choosing an arbitrary cutoff date and refusing to recognize ancestral lands claimed after that date is not in line with international standards. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Brazil supported, recognizes that Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories, and resources that they have traditionally occupied or used. In line with this standard, countries should give legal recognition and protection to traditional lands, including those that Indigenous peoples were forced to leave or had otherwise lost.</p> <p>The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also recognized that Indigenous peoples’ right to their traditional territory continues as long as “the material, cultural, or spiritual connection” with the land persists.</p> <p>Bill 490/2007 also contains other problematic provisions, including to allow the government to explore energy resources and expand strategic roads in Indigenous lands without any consultation with Indigenous peoples. International standards call for effective consultation in good faith to obtain Indigenous peoples’ free and informed consent before enacting legislation or approving projects that would affect their lands and livelihoods.</p> <p>Not only is demarcation and protection of lands fundamental to upholding Indigenous rights, but it is also a cornerstone of successful conservation, Human Rights Watch said. Indigenous management effectively prevents deforestation, with Indigenous territories in Brazil and other Amazon countries registering lower deforestation rates in relation to comparable areas. Indigenous management also delivers net climate benefits for the planet, as forests managed by Indigenous people in the Amazon are strong net carbon sinks.</p> <p>“Indigenous peoples’ rights are at stake,” Canineu said. “President Lula and his ministers should unequivocally and vociferously oppose any attempts to arbitrarily block land claims by Indigenous people. The Solicitor General should do his part by immediately revoking the 2017 legal opinion and defending Indigenous rights.”</p> <p> </p> Mon, 29 May 2023 10:09:22 -0400 Human Rights Watch DR Congo: Peaceful Protests Violently Repressed Click to expand Image Members of the Congolese security forces patrol after dispersing demonstrators during a peaceful march organized by the opposition in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2023. © 2023 REUTERS/Justin Makangara <p>(Kinshasa) – Police violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 20, 2023, arresting dozens of people and seriously injuring at least 30, Human Rights Watch said today. The police said they have opened an investigation into the violence against the protesters and announced that they had arrested three policemen for beating a child.<br /><br /> On May 22, President Felix Tshisekedi publicly congratulated the police chief who oversaw the police operations, in which police beat protesters in Ngaba commune and dispersed them with tear gas: “You are a very good citizen, you deserve to rise in rank and you will rise again, you are a true professional,” he said. “Bravo for the work you have done, zero deaths ... the thugs have been controlled, it’s very good.” Tshisekedi's comments raise serious concerns that the police investigation into the violence will not be impartial, and that the government is encouraging excessive use of force by the police in future demonstrations.<br /><br /> “The Congolese police’s brutality against protesters is an attempt to silence dissent and deter future demonstrations,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The president should not be rewarding senior officers when demonstrators are violently repressed, but instead ensuring that investigations are credible and fair and that all found responsible for abuse are appropriately sanctioned or prosecuted.”<br /><br /> A coalition of opposition political parties announced the march on May 12 to denounce the high cost of living, the opacity of the electoral process, and the persistent insecurity in eastern Congo. Participants included Martin Fayulu of Commitment to Citizenship and Development (Ecide), Moise Katumbi of Together for the Republic, Matata Ponyo of Leadership and Governance for Development (LGD), and Delly Sesanga of Set of Volunteers for the Recovery of the DRC (Envol).<br /><br /> Bienvenu Matumo, an activist and member of the citizen movement La Lucha, said: “A dozen police officers came to disperse us. I resisted because I wanted to participate in the march, so they punched me. They then took me to a police cell where I was held for more than five hours.”<br /><br />Several videos that went viral on social networks show police officers alongside people in civilian clothes beating peaceful demonstrators, including a child, with wooden sticks, which have sparked an outcry throughout the country. In Ngaba neighborhoods, police dispersed protesters by firing tear gas. Some demonstrators, reacting to the police violence, threw stones and projectiles at the police officers.<br /><br /> The Kinshasa provincial police commissioner reported that 30 police officers were injured, including 27 by demonstrators and 3 by gang members; 20 people were arrested for vandalizing a police bureau, and 3 police officers were arrested for brutalizing demonstrators and a minor.<br /><br /> Several authorities commented on the crackdown. The minister of human rights, Albert Fabrice Puela, issued a statement on the same day, condemning the violence and calling for an urgent investigation to establish responsibility for the rights violations and “end the cycle of violence.”<br /><br />Members of civil society groups, the European Union, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), the US Embassy, and the Roman Catholic Church all condemned the violent crackdown and called for the respect of civil liberties in the period leading up to the election, expected in December 2023.<br /><br /> At the same time, the governor of Kinshasa, Gentiny Ngobila, said that protesters did not abide by the government’s rules and failed to follow the authorized itinerary for their demonstration. Ngobila said he would file a complaint against the organizers of the march for alleged acts of vandalism by political party militants. The Congolese government is obligated under the constitution and international human rights law to respect and uphold the right to peaceful protest.<br /><br /> Congolese authorities should direct security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said. The Basic Principles state that security forces shall “apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved, minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life. The Basic Principles also provide that in case of death or serious injury, “a detailed report shall be sent properly to the competent authorities.”<br /><br /> “As Congo prepares for elections later this year, the government should take all necessary steps to ensure that everyone is able to peacefully express their views without fear of being arrested or beaten by the security forces,” Kaneza Nantulya said.<br /><br /></p> Mon, 29 May 2023 03:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch