Human Rights Watch News https://www.hrw.org/ en US State of Alabama Removes Anti-LGBT Language from Sex Ed Law https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/07/us-state-alabama-removes-anti-lgbt-language-sex-ed-law Click to expand Image LGBT Rainbow Flag © 2008 Ludovic Berton (Wikimedia Commons) <p>Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has signed a bill that will update the US state’s sexuality education law, removing inaccurate and stigmatizing language about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.</p> <p>Previously, Alabama state law required that sexuality education emphasize “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public” and “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”</p> <p>The instruction was not only stigmatizing, but highly misleading. In 2003, the US Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex activity are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.</p> <p>Writing condemnation of LGBT people into school curricula puts LGBT children and youth at risk. Comprehensive sexuality education provides young people with accurate, appropriate information to be safe and healthy as they become sexually active. It can also help raise awareness around serious health risks such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and related cancers. Requiring teachers to peddle misinformation and stigma in schools not only leaves young people in the dark but sends a dangerous and dehumanizing message that something is wrong with them.</p> <p>Students and teachers in Alabama told Human Rights Watch this censorship around LGBT issues had a chilling effect. In schools where students face rampant bullying and slurs, they reported rarely, if ever, hearing positive messages about LGBT people from school officials. While the law specifically pertained to sexuality education, teachers were uncertain how far it extended and worried about backlash from parents or administrators if they taught about any LGBT topics.</p> <p>But Alabama is not the only state contending with dangerous anti-LGBT curriculum laws. While Utah, Arizona, and South Carolina have recognized these laws are harmful and repealed them in recent years, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas continue to keep them in place, putting LGBT kids at risk.</p> <p>Removing anti-LGBT language is one of many important steps to make sexuality education in Alabama comprehensive and effective, and to make schools more welcoming to LGBT youth. Lawmakers should continue to develop and implement comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, scientifically and medically accurate, and responsive to the needs of all young people.</p> Fri, 07 May 2021 06:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378670%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Martial Law in Eastern Congo No Pretext for Abuse https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/07/martial-law-eastern-congo-no-pretext-abuse Click to expand Image Congolese soldiers stand in a field camp in Paida, near Beni, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 7, 2018. © 2018 Goran Tomasevic/Reuters <p>Martial law went into force yesterday in two conflict-ridden provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo to “swiftly end the insecurity which is killing our fellow citizens on a daily basis,” a government spokesman said. This means the military has taken over from civilian authorities in North Kivu and Ituri for an initial period of 30 days.</p> <p>Under the martial law orders, military authorities are now able to search people’s homes day and night, ban publications and meetings deemed against public order, restrict people’s movements, and arrest anyone for disrupting public order. Civilians will be prosecuted – contrary to regional standards – before military courts. Despite reassurances from the army’s spokesman that international human rights and humanitarian law will be respected, military rule puts a wide range of rights in jeopardy.</p> <p>The new military provincial governors only heighten concerns over human rights and civilian protection. North Kivu’s governor, Lt. Gen. Constant Ndima, better known as “Effacer le Tableau” (“erase the board”), earned his nickname from an abusive operation he allegedly led as a rebel commander with the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) in Ituri province in 2002. In Ituri, Lt. Gen. Johnny Luboya, a former rebel chief of military intelligence with the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma), may bear command responsibility for killings, rapes, and other abuses by his forces, according to an internal United Nations memo seen by Human Rights Watch.</p> <p>The two major military operations launched in North Kivu and Ituri provinces since President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019 have not addressed the regions’ multilayered complexities. On the contrary, violence has since escalated, and the number of internally displaced people is at a record high. The rampant impunity for abuses by both rebel groups and national forces continues to drive conflict.</p> <p>In this context, the Tshisekedi government needs a national approach that prioritizes justice for serious crimes, effective vetting of security forces, and successful demobilization of ex-combatants. It should make sure that martial law will not provide greater opportunities for the military to commit abuse.</p> Fri, 07 May 2021 06:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378669%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Myanmar: Junta Bans Satellite Television https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/myanmar-junta-bans-satellite-television Click to expand Image Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger sign of defiance during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar on April 23, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo <p>(Bangkok) – The Myanmar junta added a ban on satellite television to existing restrictions on the internet and media, tightening its grip over information in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 4, 2021, the ruling State Administration Council announced that anyone using satellite dishes to watch television faces up to one year in prison or a fine of K500,000 (US$320).<br /> <br /> The military junta claimed that “illegal organizations and news agencies” were broadcasting programs via satellite that threaten state security. The ban appears targeted at independent Burmese language broadcasters such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Mizzima, which have continued broadcasting via satellite since the junta revoked their operating licenses in March. The ban will also affect foreign news channels broadcast via satellite into Myanmar.<br /> <br /> “The satellite TV ban is a blatant attempt to deny access to independent news broadcasts and further isolate Myanmar’s people,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor. “The junta should immediately withdraw its outrageous blanket censorship and end its relentless assault on news reporting.”<br /> <br /> The ban on satellite television is part of the military’s full-scale attack on the country’s media, Human Rights Watch said. On May 4, the junta also announced it was banning two more media outlets, Kachin-based 74 Media and Shan-based Tachileik News Agency, increasing the number of banned media outlets to eight. Many of those outlets, including 74 Media and Tachileik News, have responded with defiance to the junta’s bans, vowing to continue their reporting.<br /> <br /> In addition to banning media outlets, the security forces have aggressively targeted journalists for arrest. At least 71 journalists have been arrested since the February 1 coup, of whom at least 48 remain in detention. The authorities have charged many of those detained, including Japanese freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi, with violating a new provision in the penal code adopted by the junta that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Those convicted face up to three years in prison. <br /> <br /> The authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the internet, making it very difficult for people to access or to share information. Mobile internet data and wireless broadband have been turned off for more than six weeks, and Facebook and other social media platforms popular in Myanmar have been blocked since the coup.<br /> <br /> “The Myanmar junta’s increasingly desperate efforts to block those inside the country from accessing independent news and information won’t hide the truth about its ongoing violations of rights,” Lakhdhir said. “Concerned governments should use their wide array of tools, including arms embargos and targeted sanctions, to pressure the junta to end its rights abuses and bring those responsible to account.”<br /> <br />  </p> Thu, 06 May 2021 18:12:33 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378659%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org ICC Sentences LRA Leader to 25 Years https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/icc-sentences-lra-leader-25-years Click to expand Image Dominic Ongwen at his confirmation of charges hearing in ICC courtroom I on 21 January 2016 © ICC-CPI. <p>The International Criminal Court (ICC) today imposed a 25-year-sentence on Dominic Ongwen, a former leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The sentence marks an important milestone in the search for justice for victims of the grave international crimes committed by this notorious armed group in northern Uganda.</p> <p>At the sentencing hearing, the court explained that it weighed a number of considerations, including the breadth and gravity of the crimes and Ongwen’s culpability, but also the fact he was abducted as a child, forced to join the LRA, and lost any opportunity to become a “valuable member of his community.” Ongwen – the first LRA leader to be held accountable – had been found guilty of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity that included hundreds killed, child victims, and sexual violence.</p> <p>The personal circumstances Ongwen faced led the court to reject a life sentence even though other aspects of the case would have made such a sentence appropriate. One judge dissented, arguing for a higher sentence of 30 years in prison.</p> <p>The court made several other important determinations in the case, rejecting defense arguments that duress or diminished mental capacity were mitigating factors.</p> <p>The court also rejected applying Ugandan traditional reconciliation measures in lieu of imprisonment as sought by the defense. The court stated the ICC would not have authority under its Rome Statute to impose such a sentence, but also that the victim participants in the trial clearly conveyed they opposed such an approach. </p> <p>The next phase in this case will be hearings on reparations for victims of the crimes, an important aspect of the ICC’s role in bringing redress.</p> <p>Today’s sentencing should not obscure a gaping hole in accountability for LRA crimes. Joseph Kony – the LRA’s founding leader and only remaining living ICC suspect for LRA crimes – remains a fugitive. Kony has been operating in a disputed border area of Sudan and South Sudan as of mid-2020. The ICC – without its own police force – cannot ensure his apprehension. On behalf of the victims, governments in the region and beyond should recommit to working together, along with United Nations peacekeeping missions, to see that he too faces justice at last.</p> Thu, 06 May 2021 12:10:06 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378665%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Afghanistan: Health Care for Women Hit by Aid Cuts https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/afghanistan-health-care-women-hit-aid-cuts <p><br /> (New York) – Falling donor support for essential services in Afghanistan is reducing women’s access to essential health care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. More cuts are likely in coming months following the announcement by United States President Joe Biden that the US will withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. </p> May 6, 2021 “I Would Like Four Kids — If We Stay Alive” <p class="media-related__subtitle text-gray-600 text-lg font-serif font-normal leading-snug py-2">Women’s Access to Health Care in Afghanistan</p> <p class="media-related__item-title font-semibold text-sm pl-4">Download the full report in English</p> <p class="media-related__item-title font-semibold text-sm pl-4">Download the Summary &amp; Recommendations</p> <p>The 39-page report, “‘I Would Like Four Kids—If We Stay Alive’: Women’s Access to Health Care in Afghanistan,” documents barriers to Afghan women and girls obtaining health care and the healthcare system’s deterioration due to declining international support. The drop in international donor funding has already had a harmful—and life-threatening—impact on the lives of many women and girls, as it affects access to and quality of health care.</p> <p>“International donors are locked in a waiting game to see whether the withdrawal of foreign troops will result in the Taliban gaining greater control of the country,” said Heather Barr, interim co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “But this is no excuse for cutting funds for essential services that aid groups have managed to deliver in insecure and Taliban-controlled areas.”</p> <p>For the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 56 people in Afghanistan in March and April, including 34 women about their experiences obtaining health care, and 18 Afghans working in the health sector, including the public health minister.</p> <p>Over the past two decades, the Afghan government has depended on international donor support to fund essential services like health care. But this donor support has been falling for years and will likely continue to do so--perhaps precipitously, Human Rights Watch said. In 2013, member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee contributed US$141 million to health and population assistance in Afghanistan. By 2019, this figure had dropped 26 percent to $105 million.</p> <p>The Afghan government has little ability in the short term to move toward self-sufficiency. Over 75 percent of its budget comes from international donors. In 2020, the country’s sustainable domestic revenues fell 2.8 percent compared with 2019, due in large part to the economic downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> Click to expand Image A new mother holds her hour-old baby in the maternity ward at Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2020. She had travelled from neighboring Laghman province to give birth at the hospital. On May 12, 2020, unidentified gunmen attacked the hospital’s maternity ward, killing 24 people, including 16 mothers, 2 children, and a midwife. Three new mothers were killed in the delivery room. Another 20 people, including babies, were injured in the four-hour attack. Ongoing security concerns have left women dependent on the hospital with reduced access to health care.  © 2020 Lynzy Billing <p>As hospitals run out of funds to pay for basic medical supplies, they are charging for supplies that previously were free. Many patients cannot pay or even afford transportation to a health facility, which may be far away. Progress on some key indicators, such as accessing prenatal care and skilled birth attendance, is stagnating, or even reversing.</p> <p>“It’s Taliban-controlled—people are poor, there are no jobs,” said a doctor from Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul. “Clinics are far from where they live, so often [women giving birth] die or the baby dies…. People don’t even have money for transport to the center, to a government hospital, and you still have to pay for medicines at the government hospital.”</p> <p>Women and girls struggle to get even the most basic information about health and family planning. There is an unmet need for modern forms of contraception, and prenatal and postnatal care is often unavailable. Modern cancer and fertility treatment and mental health care are largely unavailable. Routine preventive care such as pap smears and mammograms are almost unheard of; and a large proportion of births are still unattended by a professional.</p> <p>Women often have more children than they want because of lack of access to modern contraception; face risky pregnancies because of lack of care; and undergo procedures that could be done more safely with more modern techniques. Maternal and infant mortality remain very high.</p> <p>In addition to the announced US withdrawal, other NATO member countries plan to withdraw their forces alongside the US. Afghans interviewed expressed fears that the Taliban would obtain increasing control over their lives or that the already-high level of violence in the country would escalate. Both growing Taliban control and rising levels of violence have implications for donor support to Afghanistan, including for women’s health.</p> <p>It is crucial for donors to prioritize meeting the urgent needs of Afghans—including those of women and girls for health care, Human Rights Watch said. The US and other troop-deploying countries in Afghanistan should assess the need for aid and their commitment to providing it seperately rom the decision to withdraw their forces. They should fully appreciate the depth and urgency of the needs in Afghanistan, and not use political and security developments to justify disengaging when the need for international assistance is greater than ever. </p> <p>“This critical moment is no time to abandon Afghan women, who often face a brutal choice between feeding their families or caring for their health,” Barr said. “International funding for the health system is a life-and-death issue—and whenever cuts are made women will die.”</p> Thu, 06 May 2021 01:31:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378589%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Climate Crisis A Rising Threat to Maternal Health in the US https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/climate-crisis-rising-threat-maternal-health-us Click to expand Image Farmworkers, considered essential workers under the current Covid-19 pandemic guidelines, work a strawberry field in Santa Paula, California, April 15, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez <p>Mother’s Day in the United States is typically associated with spring, and new life.</p> <p>But because of the climate crisis, Mother’s Day also heralds hotter summers with more and longer heat waves, worsening North Atlantic hurricane season, and terrifying wildfires in the months ahead. An increasingly important public health event – Heat Awareness Day – follows on May 31.</p> <p>Climate impacts are expected to be more extreme again this year and threaten to worsen the maternal health crisis in the US. That crisis is marked by unjust inequities in maternal mortality, illness, and premature birth; with worse rates for Black, Indigenous, and other women of color than white women, and for women living in poverty compared to the better-off.</p> <p>As a coalition of 54 organizations told US President Joe Biden, studies show exposure to extreme heat, hurricanes, and wildfire have detrimental impacts on maternal health, such as increased pregnancy hospitalizations and complications like dangerous maternal diabetes and premature birth.</p> <p>It is encouraging to see that along with much more ambitious US promises to cut carbon emissions, we are seeing more public demand to have pregnant people and frontline maternal health workers included in plans to address climate crisis.</p> <p>Along with others, two leading Black reproductive justice organizations, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, are advocating for action. The Center for American Progress has issued similar demands. Indigenous and women’s rights organization the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) just published an in-depth report about fossil fuel extraction and climate change impacts on women’s health, including maternal health. The Miami Dade Women’s Fund plans to roll out billboards this month warning about pregnancy health and heat.</p> <p>New collaborations are emerging between groups working on advocating against negative climate impacts and those promoting maternal health; for example between the March of Dimes and Moms Clean Air Force, as well as groups like A Better Balance campaigning for accommodations for pregnant workers facing dangerous heat.</p> <p>Since US government agencies acknowledge that pregnant people are vulnerable to climate change, federal climate, and health programs should earmark funds for maternal health. Congress should better fund these programs and pass the “Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act” and the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.” Heat awareness efforts this summer should include pregnant people.</p> <p>There is much to be done before next Mother’s Day. <br /> <br /> See our poster for more information on why Heat Awareness is important now:</p> Click to expand Image © Human Rights Watch Thu, 06 May 2021 01:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378655%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Greece: Custody Bill Puts Women, Children at Risk https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/greece-custody-bill-puts-women-children-risk Click to expand Image Protest outside the Greek Parliament in Athens on March 27, 2021 against a bill that would introduce compulsory equal joint custody of children in cases of separation or divorce.  ©2021 Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via AP. <p>(Athens) – A bill to amend child custody provisions in Greece’s civil code disregards risks for domestic violence victims that would put women and children in jeopardy, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /> <br /> The bill, "Reforms regarding parent-child relations and other family law issues,” is expected to be introduced in parliament in early May 2021. It would redefine the “best interests of the child” in Greek law and presume equal shared custody of children in cases of separation or divorce. Any exceptions, including in cases of domestic violence, would require a potentially lengthy court process. The proposed changes contravene international law, which requires that custody determinations be based on assessment of the best interests of the individual child, and do not ensure sufficient protections for domestic abuse victims and their children.<br /> <br /> “Equal co-parenting is a laudable goal, but a blanket presumption of 50-50 child custody ignores the dangerous reality for domestic abuse victims – overwhelmingly women – and their children,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Greek parliament should put the safety of children and abuse victims first and reject these alarming changes.”<br /> <br /> Expert organizations in Greece have expressed deep concern about the proposed changes to the civil code. During public consultation on the bill, groups criticized the bill’s fundamental presumption universally equating the child’s best interests with parents’ equal participation in the child’s upbringing, rather than requiring case-by-case determinations.<br /> <br /> The groups included the Hellenic Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Family Law Society, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee on Legal Issues of Co-Custody, the gender equality organization Diotima, and Refugee Support Aegean.<br /> <br /> The proposed changes would permit courts to curtail parental communication with a child when there is “bad or abusive exercise” of this right or revoke custodial rights if a parent is unable to comply with obligations or performs this function abusively. However, such rulings must be final or issued by the Supreme Court, a legal process that can take years, during which an allegedly abusive parent could maintain co-custody and communication with the child and co-parent.<br /> <br /> In cases of “imminent danger” to a child’s mental and physical health, a prosecutor can take immediate protection measures and then has 90 days to bring the case to court. The bill makes no specific mention of abuse of one parent by another, or measures to protect victims of intimate partner abuse in cases of co-custody.<br /> <br /> Such omissions in the law could force women and their children into ongoing contact with abusers and create opportunities for further harm, often coinciding with the particularly high-risk period for injury or even death when a victim leaves her abuser. Abusers could exploit child custody arrangements to abuse victims physically, psychologically, or through economic pressure. The bill, if enacted, may deter victims from leaving their abusers. Women in Greece already face multiple barriers, including victim-blaming and dismissive police response, to reporting domestic violence and seeking help.<br /> <br /> The bill permits judges to order mediation in cases in which parents cannot reach agreement on joint custody or if a parent fails to comply with custody agreements. International and regional rights bodies have explicitly warned against mediation in cases of violence against women, saying that prior evaluation by specialists is required to ensure that such procedures do not increase risks or are not conducted against the victims’ will.<br /> <br /> Proponents contend that the bill will boost equity and combat a “sexist culture” that primarily grants custody to mothers. The bill comes amid a raft of legislation and policy initiatives in Europe aimed at promoting traditional conceptions of family life at the expense of women’s rights, including in ways that can curtail protections for women who experience domestic violence and perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes.<br /> <br /> United Nations experts sharply criticized a similar bill in Italy in 2018 as a “potential serious retrogression” on women’s rights and protection from violence. A group of UN and regional experts have stated that intimate partner violence against women must be considered in child custody determinations and that neglecting to do so reflects discrimination against women.<br /> <br /> The Greek bill’s redefinition of the best interests of the child violates a basic tenet of the Convention on the Rights of Child, which Greece ratified in 1993. The expert committee that oversees implementation of the convention has said that any determination of a child’s best interests “requires an assessment appropriate to the specific context.”<br /> <br /> The bill’s provisions would also contravene the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Greece in 1983. The CEDAW Committee, which monitors compliance with the convention, has said that in cases of gender-based violence, the lives and health of women and children should be prioritized over claims by the abuser, including with regard to child custody, access, and visitation. It found that Spain had violated the rights of a domestic abuse victim and her daughter, whom her father murdered after courts failed to adequately consider his abuse when determining child visitation.<br /> <br /> The bill, if enacted, would also violate the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), ratified by Greece in 2018, which requires governments to consider any incidence of violence against women or domestic violence in determining child custody and visitation and to ensure that arrangements do not put mother or child at risk.<br /> <br /> Greece’s parliament should reject the bill as drafted and revise it to ensure that it protects the lives and health of parents and children, including robust safeguards for domestic violence victims, Human Rights Watch said. The government should establish a family court system – which Greece does not have – to adjudicate such matters, including trained experts to assist in determining a child’s best interests and conducting risk assessments for parents and children. <br /> <br /> Greece’s international partners, including the European Commission, Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights, and UN experts on violence and discrimination against women should urge the Greek government to reject legislative changes that could endanger domestic abuse victims and that run counter to Greece’s obligations under international law.<br /> <br /> “A law that could force people to withstand ongoing domestic abuse is not in anyone’s best interests,” Margolis said. “The Greek government should recognize the risks women and children face in their own families and act to ensure that child custody can’t be used as another weapon.”</p> Thu, 06 May 2021 00:01:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378656%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Uganda: Reject Sexual Offenses Bill https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/uganda-reject-sexual-offenses-bill Click to expand Image Brenda, a Ugandan transgender woman, was arrested and assaulted by police in the wake of the passage of Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Activists fear that the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill will similarly lead to anti-LGBT violence. © 2014 Human Rights Watch <p>(Kampala) – Uganda’s Sexual Offenses Bill, 2019 both criminalizes consensual sex acts and would allow some nonconsensual acts to go unpunished, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /> <br /> The bill, approved by parliament on May 3, 2021, violates international human rights law by criminalizing consensual sexual acts between adults and yet falls short in its definition of consent. While offering provisions designed to prevent and punish sexual violence, it also further criminalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and sex workers.<br /> <br /> “Ugandan lawmakers should focus on ending endemic sexual violence rather than seeing this as an opportunity to imbed abusive provisions that criminalize the sex lives of consenting adults,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sexual offenses legislation should advance the rights of survivors and potential victims of violence, not enshrine rights violations into law.”<br /> <br /> The bill includes some positive provisions toward addressing sexual violence, including protecting sexual assault survivors’ rights during criminal proceedings and criminalizing sexual harassment by people in positions of authority, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> But it also punishes any “sexual act between persons of the same gender,” as well as anal sex between people of any gender, with up to 10 years in prison, in flagrant violation of the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination. It even provides that if Ugandans perform these sexual acts outside Uganda, they can be prosecuted in Uganda. It also includes provisions that discriminate based on HIV status and that could punish those who report crimes and allows for the death penalty for certain offenses.<br /> <br /> Uganda’s penal code already criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct through a provision that punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to life in prison. In 2014, parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which further criminalized same-sex acts, restricted freedom of association, and incited discrimination against LGBT people. The Constitutional Court overturned the 2014 Act on the grounds that lawmakers passed the bill without the requisite quorum.<br /> <br /> The criminalization of consensual same-sex acts means that LGBT survivors of sexual violence are unlikely to seek access to or obtain justice. In the wake of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, gay and transgender victims of violence told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that they were hesitant to follow up on a police complaint against their assailants out of fear that they themselves could be arrested.<br /> <br /> Ugandan feminists and human rights activists advocated for a sexual offenses bill that would decriminalize sex work, saying that criminalization fosters violence and limits access to justice. However, parliament rejected their recommendations, maintaining prison sentences for sex workers, clients, and brothel keepers. Human Rights Watch supports the Ugandan activists in opposing the criminalization of consensual adult sex work. Criminalization leads to violations of the rights of and abusive working conditions for those involved and contributes to impunity for those who commit violence against sex workers.<br /> <br /> Perversely, parliament also limited the requirement for consent to sexual acts by removing a provision that would have clarified that consent may be withdrawn “at any time before or during the performance of the sexual act.” Legislation on sexual violence should consider any sexual act that takes place after consent has been withdrawn to be a form of sexual assault, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> The Sexual Offenses Bill includes other provisions that violate rights. The bill prescribes the death sentence for “aggravated rape,” including when rape is committed by a person who is HIV positive. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty under all circumstances, as well as any enhanced penalties based on a person’s HIV status.<br /> <br /> Because the bill provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction, Ugandans who engage in consensual same-gender sexual conduct or anal sex outside Uganda could be prosecuted, irrespective of whether such conduct is legal where it takes place. If this provision is adopted, no country should send a person to Uganda if they could face charges for such offenses in violation of international law. To do so would violate their own obligations under international law of nonrefoulement – the prohibition on returning someone to a country where they could face torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and other irreparable harm.<br /> <br /> The bill also provides that anyone who commits these offenses would be entered on a sex offenders register, in effect opening up the possibility of having a “register” of LGBT people or sex workers in Uganda that would not only be discriminatory but ripe for serious abuse.<br /> <br /> The bill punishes family members who fail to report any offenses under the bill with up to three years in prison, effectively requiring Ugandans to turn in their LGBT relatives.<br /> <br /> The bill criminalizes “false sexual allegations,” a provision that activists fear could be used against survivors in a legal system that has often disregarded their claims. While the stated purpose of the bill includes preventing sexual offenses, the bill makes no effort to address underlying causes of widespread sexual violence, including gender inequality and the absence of comprehensive sexuality education. It does not address protection and assistance for survivors. An exclusive focus on punitive responses is unlikely to root out sexual violence, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> “The Sexual Offenses Bill does not do enough for survivors, conflates consensual sexual acts with violence, and offers tools to persecute LGBT people and sex workers in Uganda,” Segun said. “President Museveni should reject the bill and instruct parliament to present a revised bill that takes a proper rights-respecting approach to addressing sexual violence, so that survivors and the general public can reap the benefits.”<br /> <br />  </p> Thu, 06 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378660%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org COVAX: Enhance Transparency, Share Intellectual Property https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/covax-enhance-transparency-share-intellectual-property Click to expand Image A woman receives the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 at an apartment building in Bengaluru, India, April 24, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi <p>(New York) – The COVAX vaccine initiative should publish its contracts with vaccine developers and facilitate sharing of intellectual property to make vaccines swiftly available and affordable for all, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Public Citizen said today. COVAX, which was created in April 2020 to procure and distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, should incorporate human rights standards and principles of transparency and accountability.<br /> <br /> The groups wrote to the leadership of COVAX on December 14 with questions related to COVAX human rights policies and practices, and recommendations related to transparency and vaccine availability and affordability, among others. COVAX responded in detail in a March 25, 2021 letter, following a preliminary response on January 6.<br /> <br /> “COVAX should be stronger on human rights and transparency so it can deliver critical, lifesaving vaccines swiftly to the dozens of countries relying on them,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Publishing contracts and prices while sharing intellectual property is a good way to start ensuring that vaccines are affordable and available for billions of people who desperately need them.”<br /> <br /> COVAX has the responsibility to undertake robust human rights due diligence in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the 2008 Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in Relation to Access to Medicines that were issued by the UN special rapporteur on the right to health. As part of its human rights due diligence, COVAX should respond to concerns related to supply, manufacturing capacity, the intellectual property landscape, and pricing, and regularly publish results and impacts, the groups said.<br /> <br /> What is COVAX? <br /> <br /> COVAX is led by three organizations: the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which funds vaccine development and manufacturing; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which works on pooled procurement and delivery; and the World Health Organization (WHO), which coordinates vaccine allocation.<br /> <br /> COVAX was created to help low- and middle-income countries access vaccines by sharing risk and pooling procurement and is largely funded by governments. It also plans to reserve 5 percent of those vaccines to allocate as a “last resort” through a humanitarian buffer to cover high-risk groups where there are gaps in vaccination coverage, including areas controlled by non-state armed groups that are inaccessible to governments.<br /> <br /> The facility began delivering vaccine doses in late February. It had only been able to deliver 49 million doses to over 100 countries as of April 30. It aims to provide vaccines for at least 20 percent of participants’ populations. It also faces a significant funding shortfall. On April 8, COVAX announced it needed to raise an additional US$2 billion to reach its goal of supplying 2 billion doses this year. For countries significantly dependent on COVAX for their vaccines, even achieving this goal is far from the vaccination coverage needed to reach herd immunity. For example, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of Africa’s population by 2022.<br /> <br /> Urgent Need for Transparency<br /> <br /> COVAX has said it aims to maintain transparency around its plans and operations except when disclosure would violate confidentiality obligations. Since mid-December, COVAX has increased public disclosures of information related to its work, including vaccine distribution, provided summaries of CEPI’s funding, and committed to publishing a summary of Gavi’s deals for COVAX.<br /> <br /> The groups urged COVAX to publish all contracts surrounding vaccine research and development, and procurement, and to publicly disclose additional details related to country and industry participation, and pricing. However, COVAX responded that its contracts “contain commercially sensitive and proprietary information protected under confidentiality obligations” that cannot be disclosed. Instead of relying on confidentiality clauses, COVAX should ensure that its work is fully aligned with UNICEF’s longstanding practice of price transparency, and publish all its contracts to facilitate accountability over public expenditure, the groups said.<br /> <br /> While COVAX said it was “working with manufacturers committed to minimal profit pricing,” it has not yet published details about procurement pricing and profits in its agreements with vaccine developers and manufacturers. COVAX also has yet to publicly commit to verifying such pricing through a third-party audit.<br /> <br /> Governments and other donors funding COVAX should demand maximum transparency and accountability, including to verify all commitments by companies to supply COVAX at nonprofit prices or minimal profit pricing through third-party audits whose results are publicly shared. This is especially important as governments purchase vaccines through COVAX with public money and financing. Publishing contracts and procurement prices is key to providing the public a way to monitor government spending and is a bulwark against conflicts of interest and corruption.<br /> <br /> “COVAX should lead in transparency, not lag,” said Peter Maybarduk, access to medicines director at Public Citizen. “It should show the way forward in sharing technology and know-how, so the world can build a pandemic resilient future, rather than allowing pharmaceutical corporations to dictate terms. The World Health Organization must push its COVAX partners, Gavi and CEPI, to expect more of the pharmaceutical giants benefiting from their resources.”<br /> <br /> Recommendations to Expand Global Supply <br /> <br /> Global vaccine distribution has been highly skewed toward higher-income countries. Though nearly 200 countries have started vaccination, more than 87 percent of vaccines have gone to high-income or upper middle-income countries, while only 0.2 percent has gone to low-income countries, according to a World Health Organization statement on April 9.<br /> <br /> Vaccine supply shortages have severely hampered and delayed COVAX work. Factors causing the problem include shortages and supply disruptions in raw materials for vaccines needed to bring production to a global scale, the practice by high-income governments of pre-booking a major surplus of vaccines, exclusive licensing, and ever-shifting export policies. Expanding and diversifying manufacturing through sharing of intellectual property and open, non-exclusive licensing are key to the success of COVAX in the short- and long-term, the groups said.<br /> <br /> The groups specifically urged COVAX to publicly endorse and align its work with the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a platform for sharing knowledge, intellectual property, and data necessary for the Covid-19 response.<br /> <br /> COVAX responded that aligning and co-operating with C-TAP “is not an immediate priority,” given the pressure it faces to meet its vaccine delivery goals this year. “COVAX should recognize that the sharing of knowledge and intellectual property is essential to fulfilling its own mission of guaranteeing fair and equitable access for every country in the world,” said Tamaryn Nelson, health adviser at Amnesty International. “By refusing to engage with initiatives that have the potential to significantly boost global vaccine supply, COVAX seems to be shooting itself in the foot and hampering its very own work.”<br /> <br /> Additionally, India and South Africa introduced a proposal at the World Trade Organization in October 2020 to temporarily waive some intellectual property rules under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until widespread vaccination is in place worldwide. Approval would help expand global manufacturing.<br /> <br /> The proposal has the support of more than 100 countries and hundreds of civil society organizations, but has been stalled for over six months by a handful of high-income governments, including the US, the European Union (represented by the European Commission), the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, and Brazil. Some governments have cited their funding commitments to COVAX while continuing to block the waiver proposal, even though the two efforts are completely different and complementary in nature.<br /> <br /> The WHO has publicly supported the waiver. CEPI and Gavi should also publicly support the waiver and urge governments to do the same, the groups said. However, COVAX said it does not believe that intellectual property barriers are a key constraint to vaccine distribution and production. Instead, it believes that high start-up costs and complicated production processes are the major impediments.<br /> <br /> CEPI funds vaccine developers and requests information about patents and legal disputes from its potential awardees but does not publish this information. CEPI could require awardees to share intellectual property as a condition for receiving funding, and enforce compliance with its equitable access policy more firmly, including by issuing public health licenses, but it has not yet done so.<br /> <br /> Intellectual property rights experts have publicly highlighted how exclusive licensing, in which a company decides to whom and on what terms to grant a license to produce their technology, often with restrictive conditions and control over price and volumes, has exacerbated Covid-19 vaccine shortages, especially in the short-term. COVAX should do its due diligence around the concerns raised and take action to remedy any potential risks, in line with international human rights norms, the groups said.</p> Thu, 06 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378626%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Biden Pledges Support for Covid-19 Intellectual Property Waiver https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/biden-pledges-support-covid-19-intellectual-property-waiver Click to expand Image Supporters attend the Rally for Vaccine Access for Everyone, Everywhere on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for Social Security Works) <p>People around the world facing the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic have reason to feel more hopeful today.</p> <p>The Biden administration has announced support for India and South Africa’s proposal to waive intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines “until widespread vaccination is in place globally. “These extraordinary times and circumstances ... call for extraordinary measures,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, pledging the US would support the waiver for Covid-19 vaccines in discussions at the World Trade Organization.</p> <p>Until today, the US had been one of a handful of largely wealthy countries opposing the waiver. But pressure on the Biden Administration to change course has been building for months.</p> <p>Over the course of seven months, over 100 governments; hundreds of lawmakers from the US, Europe, and elsewhere; Nobel laureates and former world leaders; the head of the World Health Organization; faith leaders; the People’s Vaccine Alliance, and countless civil society organizations and unions, have called on governments to support the waiver. If adopted, the waiver would enable the sharing of intellectual property to help boost the availability and affordability of vaccines and other medical products for all.</p> <p>The Biden Administration’s promise to “actively participate” in negotiations on the waiver is worth celebrating. It could be a breakthrough for human rights; advocates and organizations around the world have worked hard for this.</p> <p>But there’s much work ahead. Ambassador Tai’s statement suggests the US government may only support the waiver for vaccines, though the proposal at the WTO covers a broader range of products, including Covid-19 tests and treatment. The recent surge in infections and deaths in India shows that until widespread vaccination is in place everywhere, tests and treatments will be needed to save lives. The Biden administration should ensure the waiver proposal covers the full spectrum of products needed to protect peoples’ rights to life and health.</p> <p>The Biden administration put itself on the right side of history today. Now we wait to see if the other opposing governments, like the UK, Japan, Australia, and the EU, will too.</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 20:27:03 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378661%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Cambodia: End Food Insecurity, Abuses During Lockdown https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/cambodia-end-food-insecurity-abuses-during-lockdown Click to expand Image Military Police patrol the 'Red Zone' to ensure people abide by the lockdown measures.  © 2021 Andy Ball / SOPA Images/Sipa USA <p>(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government should immediately grant United Nations agencies and aid groups unrestricted access to residents under strict lockdown in Covid-19 “red zones,” Human Rights Watch said today. The UN Country Team and donor countries should also publicly call on the government to end abusive police enforcement of public health measures.<br /> <br /> In response to a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases, Cambodian authorities, as of April 29, 2021, had labeled six communes and parts of four others in Phnom Penh “red zones,” affecting more than 300,000 people. The residents of these areas face the country’s most restrictive lockdown measures, including a ban on leaving their homes except for specific medical reasons. Many have not been able to get food, medicine, and other necessities for weeks. Local and international groups have expressed their readiness to provide assistance directly to those most affected, but the authorities have denied them access.<br /> <br /> “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government is failing to meet its obligations during the pandemic lockdown to protect poor and vulnerable communities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should immediately allow UN agencies and aid groups full access so they can help hungry people with food, health care, and other essentials necessary for their survival.”<br /> <br /> Low-income communities in which many people lost their jobs during the Covid-19 economic crisis have been particularly hard-hit by these restrictions, Human Rights Watch said. Besides the restrictions on movement that make it difficult to purchase food and other necessities, residents in red zones are facing shortages and price increases for food and other essential items.<br /> <br /> The authorities ordered the first city-wide lockdown on Phnom Penh and nearby Takmao city on April 15 without prior notice. Areas around the coastal city of Sihanoukville and populated Poipet city near the Thai border also became “red zones,” on April 23 and 24 respectively.<br /> <br /> On April 18, the Phnom Penh municipal government created a Telegram group for people in need of emergency assistance. The group quickly grew to over 50,000 members sending pleas for help amid complaints that aid had not reached them for days. On social media, people reported that they were still waiting for food “donations” announced by the authorities. On various occasions, residents have taken their frustrations with the authorities to the streets, calling on officials to address the food emergency in their areas.<br /> <br /> The Commerce Ministry on April 21 announced an online food store for residents in red zones, selling just eight items. Several brands are closely linked to top ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) officials, leading to claims of profiteering.<br /> <br /> On April 27, the Phnom Penh government divided the capital into three zones based on Covid-19 levels: “yellow,” “dark yellow,” and “red.” On May 2, Hun Sen declared on his official social media page that the lockdown would be lifted on May 5, though strict localized lockdowns will continue.<br /> <br /> Many red-zone residents have protested the hardships they have faced. During an April 29 protest in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, protesters held cardboard signs reading, “We are starving.” One protester said, “We are not rich. We live hand to mouth.” In response, a local commune chief labeled protesters the “opposition” and complained they were giving the authorities “headaches.”<br /> <br /> On May 1, the Council of Ministers spokesperson, Phay Siphan, branded people claiming they had no access to food “liars.” The same day, Phnom Penh police warned that enforcement of lockdown measures in red and dark yellow zones was to become “tightened and […] stricter […] to keep the situation under control.”<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch expressed grave concerns about the authorities’ unnecessary and excessive use of force and the arbitrary arrest of critics. Phnom Penh authorities have endorsed using violence against violators of lockdown rules and videos posted online show police with batons and sticks beating people in the streets.<br /> <br /> The media have reported that over 100 people face criminal charges; 9 have already been sentenced to one year in prison. Many of the accused have had no legal representation in violation of their fair trial rights. Sending more persons to Cambodia’s notoriously overcrowded prisons contradicts public health guidance to release people from custody where possible to stop the spread of Covid-19, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> On April 28, authorities filed further charges against the exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy for criticizing the lack of government aid to residents and calling on people to disobey lockdown measures.<br /> <br /> The Cambodian government in March adopted the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases. The law imposes disproportionate criminal punishments, including fines and prison sentences, on people who violate health, administrative, or other measures related to preventing the spread of Covid-19. UN experts have criticized the law for violating a number of rights and fundamental freedoms protected under international human rights law.<br /> <br /> Any restrictions on civil and political rights, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), such as freedom of movement, should be based in law, strictly necessary to meet a legitimate government objective, and proportionate. The least restrictive alternative should be adopted and should be neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, and subject to review. The use of canes or other weapons for corporal punishment is absolutely prohibited.<br /> <br /> When governments impose quarantines or lockdowns, they are obligated to ensure access to food, water, health care, and caregiving support. Governments should also ensure continuity of services for older people, people with disabilities, and others who rely on home and community services and support, which means allowing service providers access to people under lockdown. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has stated that the right to food includes that everyone should have “physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”<br /> <br /> “Even during an emergency, public health measures should not create new and preventable problems for those at risk,” Adams said. “Instead of blocking access, Hun Sen should be encouraging organizations to disburse food and other necessities to people in desperate need.”</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 19:21:49 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378649%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Time for Action to Protect Australia’s Older People https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/06/time-action-protect-australias-older-people <p></p> Click to expand Image A resident looks out from the window of the Florence Aged Care Facility amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Melbourne, Australia August 17, 2020. © REUTERS/Sandra Sanders <p>The Australian government has the chance to make a lasting impact on the lives of older Australians next week when it announces its proposed budget in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report.</p> <p>The Royal Commission urged the government to provide greater access to support services for older people living at home, including clearing the waiting list for home care packages. While the government announced funding for an additional 10,000 home care packages last December, that’s well short of the nearly 100,000 Australians on waiting lists as of September 2020. Having the choice to live at home longer is critically important for the autonomy of older people and should be a priority in this budget.</p> <p>The government should also ensure the budget includes adequate funding for staffing inside nursing homes. The Royal Commission’s final report sets out minimum staffing times for qualified staff in aged care facilities. By July 2022, aged care providers will be required to provide at least 200 minutes of care per day, with at least 40 minutes provided by a registered nurse. By July 2024, there should be at least one registered nurse on site at all times.</p> <p>Currently, many aged care facilities have staffing levels well below what experts consider sufficient. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report documented that this contributes to abuses such as the use of chemical restraint, using drugs to control the behavior of residents without a therapeutic purpose. Adequate staff and training are key to providing person-centered support in aged care facilities.</p> <p>The Australian Medical Association and Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation have also called on the government to mandate staff ratios in aged care facilities in this budget, including a 24/7 registered nurse presence in all facilities.</p> <p>By adopting these expert groups’ recommendations, the government would begin to address ongoing problems of understaffed facilities. The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted systemic understaffing and job insecurity in Australia’s aged care facilities, where three-quarters of Covid-19 deaths have occurred.</p> <p>The Royal Commission’s final report followed 18 major aged care reviews in Australia. The chronic issues plaguing the aged care system are well known. Now is the time to act.</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 17:49:52 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378658%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Russia: Withdraw New Batch of Oppressive Laws https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/russia-withdraw-new-batch-oppressive-laws Click to expand Image Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin addresses the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament, in Moscow, Russia. July 22, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko <p>(Moscow) – A group of Russian lawmakers introduced three bills on May 4, 2021 that would add new dangerous tools to the already significant arsenal of legislative weapons for the country’s crackdown on dissenting voices, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /> <br /> Two of the bills introduced in the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, would expand the impact of Russia’s law on “undesirable” organizations. The third would enable authorities to impose lengthy bans on potential candidates for Duma seats if they are associated with groups deemed “extremist” by the Russian authorities, even if they were associated with the group before it received that designation.<br /> <br /> “These bills are a far-from-subtle attempt to deprive the Kremlin’s political opponents of legal means of political participation and to instill ever more fear into Russia’s civil society,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For years now, and with particular ferocity in the past six months, the Russian authorities have been trying to inflict death by a thousand cuts on civil society and meaningful political opposition.”<br /> <br /> One bill would amend the 2012 “Dima Yakovlev law” to expand the ban on participating in activities of organizations blacklisted by Russian authorities as “undesirable” beyond Russia’s borders. The bill also explicitly provides that such bans may be imposed not only on Russian nationals, but also on foreigners who are permanent residents of Russia and stateless persons.<br /> <br /> The bill also envisages that a foreign or international organization can be designated “undesirable” if acting as “intermediaries” in the Russian authorities’ view, transferring funds or property to support “undesirables” operations. The Russian authorities can impose the designation even if the group has no other connection to Russia.<br /> <br /> The other new bill involving “undesirables” introduces amendments to the Russian Criminal and Criminal Procedure codes to make it easier to open criminal cases on charges of affiliation with undesirable organizations. The bill separates the participation and leadership or management of such organizations into separate parts of the criminal articles and substantially reduces the threshold for criminal liability.<br /> <br /> The authorities have been using the laws on “undesirables” to lash out against activists and the political opposition. In March, police raided the first federal forum of municipal deputies in Moscow, arresting almost 200 attendees and charging them with the administrative offense of participation in activities of “undesirable organizations.”<br /> <br /> Under the existing “undesirables” law, criminal liability can only be invoked against a person who has previously had two or more administrative convictions in a one-year period on the same charges of involvement with an undesirable organization. This requirement would be entirely removed for the charge of “organizing” activities of an “undesirable” organization, and reduced to only one prior administrative conviction for “participation,” thus broadening the grounds for bringing charges against activists.<br /> <br /> There have been only a few such criminal cases, all related to allegations of involvement with only one organization, the Open Russia Civic Movement, which the authorities claimed was registered in the UK and was blacklisted as “undesirable” by the Justice Ministry in 2017. Activists affiliated with the Russian movement with the same name insisted they had no affiliation with the British organization.<br /> <br /> Anastasiya Shevchenko, the first to be indicted under such charges, spent over two years under house arrest and also learned that the police had installed a hidden camera in her bedroom. Mikhail Iosilevich, whose “misconduct” was providing his café as a space for civil society events, including guest lectures, and who denies any connection to Open Russia, has been in pretrial detention since January 2021. By the time the latest extension of his term expires on June 28, he will have spent half a year behind bars. A number of other activists have either also been convicted, indicted, or are at risk of prosecution, including Yana Antonova, who was previously convicted but could face new charges.<br /> <br /> The explanatory notes accompanying these two bills suggest that their authors aim to increase the toxicity of the organizations the Russian authorities blacklist and to cut off Russian activists from capacity building and educational opportunities abroad offered by some of the organizations already on the list of “undesirables” or risk criminal prosecution and sanctions. The third bill seeks to ban the leaders, staff members, and supporters of organizations listed as extremist from running for parliament.<br /> <br /> Russian counter-extremism provisions are broad and sufficiently vague to allow extensive interpretation. They have been criticized, among others, by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for imposing “disproportionate restrictions of fundamental rights and freedoms … and infringe the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.”<br /> <br /> While Russian authorities have used these laws and practices for legitimate purposes to counter violent extremism, they have also used them to target individuals and organizations that pose no actual threat and are simply viewed as politically inconvenient, selectively enforcing anti-extremism measures against nonviolent people who hold critical views of the government.<br /> <br /> The bill would impose a five-year ban on running for the Duma on the leadership or management of organizations designated as extremist and a three-year ban for their staff and supporters, defined in broad terms, including donors. The bill would also have a retroactive effect, to include anyone who was a leader or manager of such organizations up to three years before the authorities designated the group extremist and up to a year for staff members and supporters.<br /> <br /> It is hardly a coincidence that the bills are being proposed only a few months before the September parliamentary elections. The authorities are already designating as extremist three groups affiliated with the jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny. One of these targeted groups is the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) which gained public recognition and support though its investigations of high-level corruption. One of the group’s lawyers, Liubov Sobol, had announced her intention to run for the Duma in September and started her campaign.<br /> <br /> “There appears to be a clear aim to isolate Russia’s civil society and force many of its activists abroad into self-imposed exile under a threat of criminal sanctions, as well as to delegitimize and punish anyone affiliated with or actively supporting Alexei Navalny,” Williamson said. “Russian authorities need to stop the attempts to drag the country behind a new Iron Curtain and start demonstrating respect for fundamental human rights and democratic values.”</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 14:48:47 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378657%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Interpol: UAE Official’s Candidacy Raises Human Rights Alarms https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/interpol-uae-officials-candidacy-raises-human-rights-alarms Click to expand Image Maj. Gen. Ahmed Naser al-Raisi. © © 2018 Ipixelpro, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/, via Wikimedia Commons <p>(Beirut) – The candidacy of a United Arab Emirates (UAE) Interior Ministry official for president of Interpol may jeopardize the global police organization’s commitment to its human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) said today.<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. Ahmed Naser al-Raisi has held the high-level position of inspector general at the UAE Interior Ministry since April 2015, making him responsible, among other things, for investigating complaints against police and security forces. The UAE state security apparatus has a long record of multiple abuses.<br /> <br /> “General al-Raisi’s selection as Interpol president would indicate that Interpol’s member states have no concern whatsoever about the record of the UAE in persecuting peaceful critics,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR’s executive director. “His candidacy is yet another bid by the UAE to purchase international respectability and whitewash its deplorable human rights record.”<br /> <br /> Elections for Interpol’s president and executive committee, originally set for December 2020 during Interpol’s general assembly and postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions, are to be held at an unspecified time later this year. A lack of oversight and transparency characterizes the election process. Interpol provides no public information about the candidates for president, and there are no candidate vetting procedures by Interpol state parties.<br /> <br /> In a November 2020 interview in 999, a magazine published by the UAE Interior Ministry, al-Raisi confirmed his candidacy, saying, “My winning the Interpol presidency will be considered an achievement for all Arabs.”<br /> <br /> In October 2020, Human Rights Watch and GCHR joined over a dozen other international human rights and civil society groups in delivering a letter to Interpol’s Secretary-General, Jürgen Stock, expressing concern over al-Raisi’s potential election to the Interpol presidency.<br /> <br /> As the Interior Ministry’s inspector general, al-Raisi is responsible for managing the UAE security and police forces and investigating complaints against the police and security forces. He reports directly to Deputy Prime Minister Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Interior Minister Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan.<br /> <br /> Al-Raisi is a member of Interpol’s executive committee, the governing body that supervises the implementation of general assembly decisions and the work of the General Secretariat. <br /> <br /> Since 2011, when UAE authorities began a decade-long assault on freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch and GCHR have documented numerous allegations of serious abuse at the hands of state security forces, particularly against peaceful critics of government policies, including enforced disappearances and torture.<br /> <br /> In March 2020, United Nations independent human rights experts said that the UAE should investigate and reform “degrading conditions of detention.” In January 2021, Human Rights Watch and GCHR detailed the government’s persecution of the prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, including indefinite solitary confinement and abhorrent detention conditions since his arrest in March 2017.<br /> <br /> There has been no indication that the UAE authorities have investigated credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the UAE security forces for any of the many cases that Human Rights Watch and GCHR have documented over the years. According to the UAE Interior Ministry website, updated in December 2020, the Office of the Inspector General’s investigation department is responsible for receiving and investigating “complaints against the police and security services and its members.”<br /> <br /> A report written by the United Kingdom’s former director of public prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith, documents the UAE’s substantial financial contributions to Interpol since 2017. In summary, he wrote, “This report has found coherent evidence that the UAE is seeking to improperly influence Interpol through funding and other mechanisms and concludes that the UAE is seeking to cement its influence by seeking to have Major General Al-Raisi elected as President.”<br /> <br /> Calvert-Smith concluded that al-Raisi’s election “would send a message to the world that Interpol has little or no respect for human rights and will turn a blind eye to torture and repression.”<br /> <br /> Under Interpol’s constitution, the General Assembly elects the group’s president from among nine country delegates who, along with the president and three vice presidents, constitute the agency’s executive committee. It is Human Rights Watch and GCHR’s understanding that Interpol’s president supervises the work of the secretary-general, the day-to-day chief, and heads the executive committee, its decision-making body. <br /> <br /> International human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and GCHR, have criticized Interpol’s failure to address abuses by some governments of its “Red Notice” system, an international “wanted persons” list. Calvert-Smith wrote that he “found strong evidence that the UAE has misused the Red Notice system both for minor offenses and most importantly for political gain against those seen as a threat to the regime.”<br /> <br /> In 2017, when then-Chinese Vice-Minister for Public Security Meng Hongwei was serving as Interpol president, Human Rights Watch documented China’s misuse of the police organization’s red notice system to seek the arrest and extradition of individuals. Meng was reported missing after his return to China in September 2018. Chinese authorities – while not revealing Meng’s whereabouts or status – later transmitted Meng’s resignation to Interpol. In January 2021 Meng was finally sentenced on charges of corruption.<br /> <br /> “To again choose a top official of an abusive state institution as its president, Interpol risks jeopardizing its credibility as a rights-respecting international law enforcement agency,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 11:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378652%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Niger: New Government Should Investigate Massacres https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/niger-new-government-should-investigate-massacres Click to expand Image Niger's newly elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, gestures at his party headquarters after the announcement of his election in Niamey, Niger, on February 23, 2021. © 2021 Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images <p>(Nairobi) – Niger’s first democratic transition since independence provides President Mohamed Bazoum’s new administration with an opportunity to prioritize accountability for alleged war crimes committed by all sides in Niger’s armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the new justice and defense ministers. Massacres by alleged armed Islamist groups in Niger that have killed over 310 people since January 2021 highlight the need to investigate grave abuses and hold all those responsible to account.</p> <p>On March 15, in the deadliest attack on civilians in Niger’s recent history, armed men attacked several villages and hamlets in the Tillia area of Tahoua, killing at least 137 people, according to official reports. A media source reported that many of the victims were watering their livestock at wells at the time of the attack.</p> <p>“With a rising civilian death toll, scores of disappeared people, and increasing unlawful attacks by armed Islamist groups, it’s clear that abuses by one side beget abuses by the others,” said Jonathan Pedneault, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “President Bazoum’s government should take urgent and bold action to reverse this trend by aggressively pursuing justice for all war crimes, whether by Islamist fighters or the security forces.”</p> <p>In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged the new administration to investigate 18 serious allegations of abuses by armed Islamist groups and government security forces in the border regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua since October 2019. Human Rights Watch found that the security forces were allegedly responsible for at least 185 of the 496 deaths reported.</p> <p>The Tillabéri region, which borders Mali and Burkina Faso, is a focal point of armed Islamist group activity in Niger, as well as of national, regional, and international counterterrorism operations. The Tahoua region, bordering Mali, has also faced attacks by Islamist fighters.</p> <p>Since 2015, armed Islamist groups in Niger have allegedly killed hundreds of villagers, executed aid workers and village leaders, attacked election officials, and targeted schools. And since at least 2019, security forces engaged in counterterrorism operations have allegedly executed scores of suspects shortly after detaining them at marketplaces, in their villages, or at waterpoints, and subjected dozens to enforced disappearances. There have been few credible investigations and little accountability for these crimes, which have dramatically worsened over the past year.</p> <p>In 2020, Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed 12 people from Tillabéri who provided information about 12 incidents in which men in uniform arriving in military vehicles arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and summarily executed civilians and suspected Islamists.</p> <p>Eleven of these incidents were included in a report produced in May 2020 by local Fulani civil society activists. In total, Human Rights Watch has collected the names of 178 people who were allegedly unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared and 7 who were allegedly tortured by Nigerien security forces between October 2019 and May 2020.</p> <p>One witness and two other local sources said that on the morning of March 25, 2020, men dressed in military fatigues arrived in military vehicles at a hamlet where members of the Fulani Djalgodji clan have spent the dry season for the last 20 years, 6 kilometers from the village of Adabdabe, in Banibangou commune. The witness said security forces arrested all the 13 Djalgodji men they found, ages 18 to 66, and then took them outside the hamlet and executed them.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch is only aware of one government investigation into allegations of war crimes by the security forces. In April 2020, the previous defense minister ordered an investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance of 102 men in Inatès commune in the Tillabéri region in March and April 2020. While investigators found no credible evidence of security force involvement in these incidents, it provided no reasonable explanation for the men’s disappearances, claiming that armed Islamists dressed in stolen military fatigues may have been responsible.</p> <p>However, a subsequent investigation into the same allegations by Niger’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), from May to July 2020, found 6 mass graves containing 71 bodies in Inatès commune, some of the people reported missing, and concluded that security forces were most likely responsible for the killings.</p> <p>Under international humanitarian law applicable in Niger, all parties to the armed conflict, including Islamist armed groups, are prohibited from executing, torturing, or forcibly disappearing anyone in their custody, including civilians and captured combatants. Those responsible for committing serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent, including as a matter of command responsibility, may be prosecuted for war crimes. States have an obligation to investigate and appropriately prosecute alleged war crimes committed within their territory.</p> <p>The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to which Niger is a party, codifies the prohibition on enforced disappearances and sets out the obligations of states to prevent, investigate, and prosecute all enforced disappearances.</p> <p>The failure of Niger’s military justice system to seriously investigate alleged abuses by military personnel against civilians points to the need for civilian investigators and courts to handle these cases. Such criminal investigations should meet international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence, Human Rights Watch said. Investigations should seek to establish the line of command, assess responsibilities, and bring appropriate prosecutions in accordance with international fair trial standards.</p> <p>“President Bazoum, while facing troubled times and armed groups that have committed numerous atrocities, has an opportunity to show strong leadership by prioritizing accountability for abuses by all sides,” Pedneault said. “Niger’s international partners should support these efforts by keeping justice squarely on the agenda and supporting national efforts to strengthen the rule of law.”</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 01:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378621%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Abuse of Cybercrime Measures Taints UN Talks https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/abuse-cybercrime-measures-taints-un-talks Click to expand Image U.N. headquarters Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. © AP Photo/Jeenah Moon <p>(New York) – A possible global treaty to address cybercrime risks legitimizing abusive practices and could be used as an excuse to silence government critics and undermine privacy in many countries, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments will kick off the process for a global cybercrime treaty, first proposed by the Russian government, at the United Nations on May 10, 2021.<br /> <br /> Several national cybercrime laws in various parts of the world already unduly restrict rights and are being used to persecute journalists, human rights defenders, technologists, opposition politicians, lawyers, religious reformers, and artists. Instead of a treaty, governments should prioritize reforming these abusive laws to conform with international human rights standards. Any effort to address cybercrime needs to reinforce, not undermine, freedom of expression and other human rights.<br /> <br /> “Cybercrime poses a real threat to people’s human rights and livelihoods and efforts to address it need to protect, not undermine, rights,” said Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Governments should oppose overbroad and aggressive cybercrime measures that threaten rights.”<br /> <br /> The negotiating process for a possible treaty should be open and transparent, and human rights groups should be consulted every step of the way, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> The term “cybercrime” is typically used to describe both actions taken against the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of computer data or systems and traditional offenses committed through the internet and communications technology. In recent years, there has been a surge in cybercrime laws around the world, some of which are overly broad and criminalize online expression, association, and assembly.<br /> <br /> Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, as just one example, authorizes blocking websites deemed critical of officials and requires service providers to retain or provide authorities with access to copious amounts of people’s data, which is open to abuse. Other laws, like Egypt’s Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law, have been used to prosecute people for using secure digital communications, which are crucial to keeping people safe online.<br /> <br /> If UN member states choose to pursue a global treaty, they should bolster protections for freedom of expression and other fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> The upcoming UN meeting will focus on key procedural matters, such as who can participate in future negotiations, where negotiations will occur, and whether the process will be based on consensus.<br /> <br /> Ahead of the treaty negotiations, Human Rights Watch analyzed the key risks to freedom of expression and privacy posed by national legislation and international cooperation to address cybercrime, based on Human Rights Watch reporting on cybercrime for at least a decade. In March and April of 2021, Human Rights Watch also conducted phone and email interviews with cybercrime experts.<br /> <br /> Governments have obligations under international human rights law to protect people from harm resulting from criminal activity carried out through the internet. For example, part of governments’ obligation to protect women’s human rights includes combating gender-based violence online, such as the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images online. But government responses to cybercrime are often ineffective or disproportionate, and can undermine rights.<br /> <br /> Investigating and prosecuting crime increasingly requires international cooperation. Data is physically stored and processed in multiple countries, often different from where the criminal prosecution takes place, even when referring to data in the “cloud.” Governments try to access data stored outside their jurisdictions through legislative, informal, and coercive measures that can erode the right to privacy. Governments, sometimes with the support of major companies, have tried to speed up cooperation to share data for criminal investigations through measures that can bypass or weaken due process protections.<br /> <br /> So-called morality clauses have led to arrests and prosecutions of women and LGBT people for expressing themselves online. A new treaty risks legitimizing and normalizing these practices. The UN General Assembly has expressed grave concern that cybercrime laws are “in some instances misused to target human rights defenders or have hindered their work and endangered their safety in a manner contrary to international law.”<br /> <br /> Cybercrime laws have also been used to crack down on critical voices. For example, the prominent Philippines journalist Maria Ressa was convicted of “cyber libel” in 2020 and faces up to seven years in prison. The renowned Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor is serving a 10-year sentence for cybercrimes and other vague offenses related to his human rights work.<br /> <br /> The risks of proceeding with a global treaty – particularly one that has been championed by some of the world’s most repressive governments – are considerable, Human Rights Watch said. A global treaty would set the standard for countries around the world that are still developing their approaches to addressing cybercrime at the national level. It could also significantly influence how law enforcement shares data across borders.<br /> <br /> A treaty is most likely unnecessary, and efforts would be better spent improving mutual legal assistance processes and providing more resources and training for law enforcement officials engaged in cross-border requests for data to ensure timely responses that do not infringe on people’s rights.<br /> <br /> “Delegations should think long and hard about whether the world actually needs a cybercrime treaty,” Brown said. “They should also ensure that nongovernmental groups have a seat at the table, as so many advocates have been targeted by abusive cybercrime laws and have relevant expertise on what safeguards are needed.”<br /> <br /> For more information on the impact of measures to address cybercrime, please see below.</p> <p>Cybercrime and Rights<br /> <br /> Digital technologies play an increasing role in people’s everyday lives. Cybercrime, and abusive measures aimed at fighting it, are growing and present significant human rights challenges. Cybercrime can undermine rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and nondiscrimination, and can affect people’s livelihoods.<br /> <br /> Malicious hacking of personal data can reveal intimate aspects of people’s lives. Blackmail facilitated by phishing attacks can restrict people’s freedom of expression and cause psychological harm. Capturing or sharing intimate images without consent can cause lifelong impact for people targeted, most of them women and girls. Online scams, and the use of malware to obtain bank login credentials can cause severe financial distress.<br /> <br /> Older people tend to be hit disproportionately in some contexts because they are perceived to have significant financial resources and to lack the tools and experience to identify attacks and fraud. Governments may not consistently support older people with information and skills to protect themselves online. Cybercrime is on the rise and will most likely grow, as data breaches and leaks at companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Clubhouse expose the sensitive personal data of hundreds of millions of people and leave them vulnerable to attacks.<br /> <br /> There is no consensus on how to tackle cybercrime at the global level or a common understanding or definition of what constitutes cybercrime. Most definitions include a limited number of acts, often referred to as “cyber-dependent crimes,” against the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of computer data or systems. Cybercrime laws also often include criminalization of what is often referred to as cyber-enabled crimes, traditional offenses committed through the internet and communications technology. These include acts for personal or financial gain or harm, such as identity-related crime, and computer content-related acts, like child sexual exploitation and copyright infringement. Cybercrime laws also typically contain procedural powers that enable specialized investigative and international cooperation, which law enforcement in one country can use to obtain electronic evidence in another country for any criminal investigation.<br /> <br /> National Cybercrime Laws that Unduly Restrict Rights<br /> <br /> In his 2019 report, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, observed, “A surge in legislation and policies aimed at combating cybercrime has also opened the door to punishing and surveilling activists and protesters in many countries around the world.”<br /> <br /> The following analysis is not comprehensive, but identifies trends observed in reporting on cybercrime laws in various regions. It focuses primarily on cybercrime laws, but cybercrime provisions that are used to restrict rights can also be found in laws governing information and communications technologies (ICTs), telecommunications, and cybersecurity, and in penal codes. Additionally, cybercrime laws are often used in conjunction with other laws, like counterterrorism laws, to restrict rights.<br /> <br /> Criminalization of Expression<br /> <br /> Many governments are putting into place cybercrime laws with provisions that directly violate freedom of expression, or that are overbroad and vague, lending themselves to crackdowns on freedom of expression.<br /> <br /> Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) criminalizes anyone who “prepares or disseminates” information through any information system or device with the intent to praise a person “accused of a crime,” or to “advance religious, ethnic or sectarian hatred,” or with intent to praise terrorism or proscribed organizations. These provisions on their face violate free expression rights.<br /> <br /> Cambodia’s proposed cybercrime law prohibits acts that vaguely constitute “disturbing, frightening, threatening, violating, persecuting or verbally abusing others by means of computer.” The United Arab Emirates’ Federal Legal Decree No. 5/ 2012 on combating cybercrimes broadly criminalizes the use of information technology “with the intent of inciting to actions, or publishing or disseminating any information, news, caricatures, or other images liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on the public order.”<br /> <br /> Many countries have made spreading “false” information online a cybercrime. But what is “false” is often highly contested, and criminalizing “false” statements opens the door to broad criminalization and chilling of speech. Human rights experts at the UN and regional bodies have long condemned governments for using vague and ambiguous terms such as “false news” and “non-objective information” to outlaw disseminating certain types of information.<br /> <br /> In October 2020, Nicaragua’s Congress adopted a cybercrime law that criminalizes “publication” or “dissemination” of “false” or “distorted” information on the internet “likely to spread anxiety, anguish or fear.” It also punishes anyone who publishes “false or distorted information” that “promotes hate and violence, [or] endangers economic stability, public order or health, or national security,” terms that are not defined.<br /> <br /> In March 2020, Russia introduced Article 207.1 into the criminal code for “public dissemination of knowingly false information in circumstances threatening the life and safety of citizens,” punishable with up to three years of liberty restriction. A proposed cybercrime law in Eswatini outlaws publishing a statement or “fake news” through any medium, with the intention to deceive anyone else or any group of people.<br /> <br /> Thailand’s 2016 Computer-Related Crime Act (CAA) criminalizes publishing content that is “likely to cause damage to the public,” including “false or partially false” data, “distorted or partially distorted” data, or data likely to “cause public panic” or harm “maintenance of national security, public safety, national economic security, public infrastructure serving the public interest.” Rwanda’s Law on Prevention and Punishment of Cyber Crimes prohibits the publication of “rumors.”<br /> <br /> Some countries also use cybercrime laws to criminalize conduct viewed as harming morality or religious values. Such provisions pose a particular threat to the free speech of women’s rights advocates and LGBT people.<br /> <br /> Saudi Arabia’s 2007 Anti-Cybercrime law criminalizes “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.” Egypt’s 2018 Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law restricts online content deemed to “undermine family values” or violate “public morals.” Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act criminalizes a broad range of offenses, including insult of people based on their religion.<br /> <br /> These restrictions are inconsistent with international human rights law, which requires any regulation of freedom of expression to be necessary for a legitimate purpose, such as the protection of national security, public health, or the rights of others, and to be strictly proportionate to that end. Even when a law has a legitimate purpose, governments are obligated to specifically identify the nature of the threat being addressed and how the measure proposed is both a necessary and proportionate means of addressing it.<br /> <br /> Restrictions on Investigative Journalism, Research, and Whistleblowing<br /> <br /> A core element of cybercrime laws is usually the criminalization of unauthorized or illegal access to and interference with computer systems and data. These provisions can provide important safeguards against privacy violations and generally strengthen cybersecurity. However, these laws can undermine human rights when they are overbroad, such as by criminalizing mere access to computer systems and data, regardless of intent and without allowing a public interest defense.<br /> <br /> Such laws can easily be used against whistleblowers who may access systems and data to expose government or corporate wrongdoing, or security researchers, who may do so to disclose vulnerabilities in information systems, to allow companies to improve infrastructure and software security for the public’s benefit. Such overbroad laws can also be used against activist groups or media outlets that publish information that was obtained without authorization. Publishing such data is key, for example, to Justice for Myanmar’s work to expose international businesses with financial ties to Myanmar’s military with the release of sourced evidence.<br /> <br /> Pakistan’s PECA prohibits unauthorized access to, copying, or transmission of “critical” information with intent to create a sense of fear or insecurity in the government or the public or to advance religious, ethnic, or sectarian hatred. These vague definitions create a serious threat to whistleblowers who may seek to reveal intelligence that shows abuses by government officials or agencies.<br /> <br /> Cambodia’s proposed cybercrime law criminalizes “unauthorized access” to a computer system, or transferring data from a system without authorization, with no protections for journalists or whistleblowers. The provisions could be used to prosecute whistleblowers and investigative journalists who use leaked materials in their work.<br /> <br /> Nicaragua’s cybercrime law punishes the use of communications technology to disclose classified information as well as information considered “personal.” Article 232 of Ecuador’s Criminal Code broadly criminalizes a range of activities, including destruction of, damaging, erasing, altering, or blocking computer data or systems, or even designing or developing programs that could be used this way. The law does not require malicious intent and can be interpreted broadly by prosecutors.<br /> <br /> In the United States, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) prohibits unauthorized access to computers but does not explain what “without authorization” actually means. Along with contradictory court decisions, this has created uncertainty and confusion for security researchers and ordinary internet users.<br /> <br /> The ambiguity of “unauthorized access” has opened up researchers to legal risk from platform companies claiming that “scraping” violates their sites’ terms of service. Scraping is using a computer to automatically load and read the pages of a website for later analysis.<br /> <br /> The CFAA is also cited in the US indictment of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, which constitutes a threat to media freedom because much of the conduct it describes is routinely used by journalists. Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret.<br /> <br /> Interference with Privacy<br /> <br /> Cybercrime laws often establish new investigative powers, including allowing authorities to intercept, retain, and access people’s data. Obtaining data from internet service providers and other online services such as social media platforms or cloud storage services can be essential for prosecuting cybercrime. But some laws require disproportionate data collection and retention without judicial oversight and basic due process protections. In some cases, law enforcement may be able to obtain stored subscriber data, traffic data, and even content data, directly and in real time. Laws also often impose harsh sanctions on companies for failure to retain data and provide access to law enforcement.<br /> <br /> The Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act authorizes police to collect computer data in real time without a court order or warrant. Thailand’s CCA expands the government’s data collection and other investigatory powers, allowing their use in response to any criminal offense under other laws that involve the use of computer systems, computer data, or devices. Service providers may be required to retain user data for up to two years. Authorities are able to access “traffic data” and other user-related data without a court order when investigating an offense under the CCA or other laws. With a court order, the authorities are also potentially able to compel service providers to assist with decrypting encoded data, raising concerns that the law could undermine the use of encryption tools that protect cybersecurity and users’ privacy. Undermining encryption compromises the security of everyone’s communications, exposing people to a range of threats online, including from cybercriminals.<br /> <br /> Palestine’s Law on Electronic Crimes permits the authorities to “seize” information systems and information technology tools “which may help uncover the truth” for investigative purposes without demonstrating the necessity or proportionality. The law also obligates service providers to make available subscriber information “at the request of the prosecution or the competent court” and retain that information for at least three years without clarifying what that entails or setting out restrictions or sufficient safeguards against abuse. This requirement disproportionately infringes on the right to privacy of all users whose data is collected regardless of whether they are suspected of wrongdoing.<br /> <br /> Egypt’s cybercrime law requires internet service providers to collect and store customer usage data for 180 days. That includes data that enables user identification, and data related to all user activities, including phone calls and text messages, websites visited, and applications used on smartphones and computers. The National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority can also issue an administrative decision obliging telecommunications companies to save “other data” without specifying what kind. Service providers are also required to provide their “technical capabilities” to national security entities and grant them access to review retained data.<br /> <br /> The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized governments for imposing mandatory obligations on service providers to retain communications data for extended periods because such requirements limit people’s ability to communicate anonymously, create the risk of abuses, and may facilitate disclosure to third parties, including criminals, political opponents, or business competitors through hacking or other data breaches.</p> <p>Misuse of Cybercrime Laws</p> In a devastating blow to freedom of the media in the Philippines, Maria Ressa, the founder and executive editor of Rappler, and Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr., were convicted in June 2020 of criminal libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. The conviction came after Ressa and Santos published a piece accusing then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona of impropriety for using a vehicle owned by a businessman. The prosecution was one of several instigated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to stifle Rappler’s critical reporting, particularly on the government’s murderous “war on drugs,” which has killed tens of thousands of people since July 2016.&#13; &#13;  &#13; © 2020 AP Photo/Aaron Favila Saudi Arabian blogger and editor Ra’if Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison in 2014 after he was prosecuted on various vague charges, including under the country’s anti-cybercrime law. The court convicted Badawi of undermining general security and ridiculing Islamic religious figures. It followed allegations that his blog was “infring[ing] on religious values” by providing a platform for open debate of views on religion and religious figures. Badawi remains in prison despite international calls for his release.&#13; © 2016 Dinendra Haria/Alamy Stock Photo On June 3, 2020 Mauritanian authorities arrested Eby Ould Zeidane, a journalist and member of the Advertising Regulatory Authority, over a Facebook post calling for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to be observed on fixed dates according to the Gregorian calendar, contrary to Muslim tradition. He was charged with blasphemy under penal code article 306, which carries the death sentence, and for “publishing leaflets that undermine the values of Islam” under article 21 of the Cybercrime Law. Zeidane was released shortly after his arrest and publicly repented his remarks after meetings with religious scholars and the minister of Islamic affairs.&#13; © Private Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar was sentenced to three years in prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in March 2017 under article 29 of the UAE cybercrime law for “insulting the state’s symbols on Facebook.” The conviction violated al-Najjar’s rights to free expression and to a fair trial. He was released on December 13, 2018 and returned to Jordan, but in early 2021 he passed away from health complications exacerbated by his experience in prison in the UAE.&#13; © Private Mauritanian activist Abdallahi Salem Ould Yali was jailed in January 2018 on charges of incitement to violence and racial hatred for WhatsApp messages calling on Haratines, the ethnic group to which he belongs, to resist discrimination and demand their rights. Authorities accused Yali under the penal code, the 2015 cybercrimes law, and the 2010 counterterrorism law of incitement to racial hatred and violence. Authorities dropped charges and released Yali in February 2019.&#13; © 2017 Private Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced in December 2020 to nearly six years in prison for several offenses tied to her peaceful activism, including under the country’s cybercrime law, which prohibits “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.” She was released in February 2021 but is banned from travel and has a suspended sentence, which allows the authorities to return her to prison at any time for any perceived criminal activity.&#13; © Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo In August 2019, a Ugandan court convicted and sentenced academic and activist Stella Nyanzi to 18 months’ imprisonment for “cyber harassment” under the Computer Misuse Act for a poem she published on Facebook in 2018 criticizing President Yoweri Museveni. The court ruled that the poem violated prohibitions on “obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent” content. In February 2020, a high court judge ruled that Nyanzi’s right to a fair trial was violated and revoked her sentence. Nyanzi fled to Kenya to seek asylum in February 2021 citing several abductions of people close to her as the reason for her decision to flee.&#13; © 2019 AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi In August 2019 Nigerian Department of State Security operatives arrested Omoyele Sowore, a 2019 presidential candidate and publisher of the New York-based Nigerian news website Sahara Reporters, accusing him under Nigeria’s Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act of planning an insurrection aimed at a forceful takeover of government through his calls for nationwide protests tagged “Revolution Now.”&#13; © 2019 Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, was arrested on April 28, 2020 and held incommunicado for a comment on his Facebook page that compared the Prophet Muhammad to a Nigerian Evangelical preacher. The authorities contended that he had violated Nigeria’s cybercrimes law, which criminalizes insult of people based on their religion. They also alleged that the posts were contrary to the Kano State penal code, which sets punishments of up to two years in prison for public insults or contempt of any religion likely to lead to a breach of peace. Bala is in police custody but was only allowed access to his lawyers in October 2020.  A petition challenging his detention and prosecution in Kano State is currently before a Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.&#13; © 2021 Kola Sulaimon/AFP via Getty Images Fahad al-Fahad was recently released from prison after serving a five-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. In April 2016 he was arrested and subsequently convicted on charges tied solely to his peaceful social media activity. Al-Fahad’s charges included violating the Saudi cybercrime law via tweets criticizing the Saudi criminal justice system and government corruption and “inciting hostility against the state, its structure, and its justice systems.” He is one of many prominent Saudi activists serving long prison terms on charges such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “inciting hostility against the state” that do not constitute recognizable crimes under international law.&#13; © 2018 Raif Badawi Foundation Waleed Abu al-Khair is a lawyer and the founder of the group Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. In 2009 Abu al-Khair acted as defense lawyer for a member of the "Jeddah reformists," a group of 16 men, including political and human rights activists, whom police detained after they met to establish a human rights organization. A judge ordered his detention in April 2014 and a Saudi court eventually sentenced him to 15 years in prison, including for violating a cybercrime law, solely for his peaceful human rights advocacy.&#13; © 2013 Human Rights Watch Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a Saudi religious reformist thinker, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, on a host of vague charges relating to his peaceful religious ideas, including an allegation that he defamed a Kuwaiti man by accusing him on Twitter of supporting the Islamic State (ISIS) and violating Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime law. Saudi authorities arrested him in September 2017, brought charges against him in October 2018, and have detained him since.&#13; © 2014 Hassan al-Maliki/Youtube Abdulrahman al-Sadhan is a former Saudi Red Crescent employee who was detained by Saudi authorities in March 2018 after his anonymous Twitter account is believed to have been breached by the Saudi government. Authorities held him incommunicado with no contact with the outside world for nearly two years before allowing one brief phone call in February 2020. Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court convicted him on a host of vague charges, including violating the country’s cybercrime law, in March 2021, and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.&#13; © Private In April 2019, Ola Bini, a Swedish programmer and internet activist, was arrested in Ecuador after that country’s Minister of Government María Paula Romo claimed that a group of Russians and Wikileaks-connected hackers were in the country "cooperating with attempts to destabilize the government." Romo spoke hours after the government had ejected Julian Assange from Ecuador's London Embassy, and accused the hackers of planning an attack in retaliation for the eviction. No further details of this alleged sabotage plot were ever revealed. A court ordered Bini’s release from pre-trial detention 70 days later. He is facing a travel ban, preventing him from leaving Ecuador, as an alternative measure, and authorities are still holding devices that they confiscated from him. Bini was subsequently charged with “unauthorized access to an information system.” His case has not yet been tried and has experienced several procedural irregularities.&#13; © 2019 AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa <p>Cross-Border Data Access<br /> <br /> Because of the transborder nature of cybercrime, with data stored and processed in multiple countries, subject to different laws, international cooperation is essential to carrying out investigations and bringing perpetrators to justice. But additional human rights challenges emerge when coordinating investigations and prosecutions across borders.<br /> <br /> Law enforcement agencies try to access data stored outside their jurisdictions through a range of legislative, informal, and coercive measures. US providers in certain circumstances share subscriber data voluntarily with non-US law enforcement entities. Governments sometimes extract data or compel companies to “pull” data from servers in other countries, without obtaining the other country’s consent, in ways that can violate the human rights of the data subjects.<br /> <br /> Mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) are international legal frameworks used to obtain evidence – including communications data – across borders. The process of obtaining such evidence under such a treaty can take months because of administrative legal processes in each country. While frustrations with the process are understandable, and such transnational barriers to cooperation should not undermine accountability, law enforcement sometimes attempts shortcuts to speed up access to data that can undercut human rights protections, like due process.<br /> <br /> For example, in the United States, the 2018 Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, opposed by Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups, transformed the system for cross-border access to data in criminal investigations. It allows the US to enter agreements with other countries to authorize law enforcement in each country to directly serve requests for data like email contents, or to issue a wiretap internationally in the other country, without the oversight of the nation where the interference occurs, even when it involves a citizen or person whom the nation normally offers legal protections.<br /> <br /> The subsequent US-UK CLOUD Act Executive Agreement fails to adequately protect the privacy and due process rights of US and United Kingdom citizens. For example, the agreement lowers the bar for law enforcement access to both stored communications contents, such as emails, and live wiretaps in the US, by using vague oversight and notice requirements and by eliminating the stringent probable cause requirement for foreign law enforcement access to stored content data.<br /> <br /> Multilateral Frameworks<br /> <br /> In the absence of a global cybercrime treaty, there are some multilateral treaties – including among Arab governments, African governments, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – that address aspects of cybercrime. The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (the Budapest Convention) is the most complete international framework, as it seeks to harmonize national laws, improve cybercrime investigation techniques, and promote international cooperation. It also has the broadest support internationally, as it has been ratified by 65 countries, including non-CoE members – 13 in the Americas, 11 in Africa, 4 in Asia, and 2 in Oceania.<br /> <br /> The Budapest Convention requires states parties to make certain acts – such as illegal access to computer systems, illegal interception of electronic communications, sending malware, copyright violations, and the production or dissemination of child pornography – criminal under their national law. It makes extensive provisions for international cooperation in fighting such crimes, including mutual legal assistance in investigation and preservation of evidence, extradition and similar matters, and acts as a legal framework for international cooperation on criminal justice issues.<br /> <br /> A Second Additional Protocol, on enhanced international cooperation and access to evidence in the cloud, is currently being negotiated. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has said that the Second Additional Protocol seeks to reshape the basis for cross-border law enforcement activities, with far-reaching implications for privacy and human rights. EFF is deeply concerned that civil society is being asked to comment on this momentous text in too limited a time frame.<br /> <br /> The Budapest Convention is sometimes referred to as the “gold standard” of international conventions on cybercrime, but human rights experts have long pointed out that it should incorporate stronger safeguards for human rights. Article 15 says that state procedures relating to the investigation and prosecution of the crimes listed must be in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), for Council of Europe member states, or with other international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for non-European states. However, it doesn’t provide details or guidance on what this entails. Article 15 only applies to procedural matters.<br /> <br /> When it comes to substantive criminal articles, the European Convention provides states with flexibility in implementation. The provisions on illegal access and data interference are problematic, as they could be interpreted to allow the criminalization of security research and non-malicious “hacking” that causes no harm and may even have positive effects, for instance by exposing security vulnerabilities. The convention does not include a public interest defense for whistleblowers or journalists. Governments should use the flexibility in implementation to uphold human rights standards.<br /> <br /> In CoE states, other binding human rights instruments, like the ECHR, apply and people would have a remedy to the European Court of Human Rights if their rights are breached. But the same cannot be said for non-CoE countries that join the Budapest Convention, countries that are not subject to the ECHR or comparable human rights treaties, where the rule of law is too weak to enforce safeguards against abuse of cybercrime laws.<br /> <br /> Recent Developments at the United Nations<br /> <br /> Russia, though a member of the CoE, has not joined the Budapest Convention. Instead, it has been promoting the idea of a UN treaty on cybercrime since at least 2010, when its proposal for a new treaty at the UN Crime Congress was rejected. In recent years, as Russia significantly expanded its laws and regulations tightening control over internet infrastructure, online content, and the privacy of communications, it also stepped up its efforts toward a UN cybercrime treaty.  <br /> <br /> In 2017, it circulated a draft treaty and the following year it introduced a resolution calling for a report from the UN secretary-general on the challenges member states face in countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes. Governments from the EU, the US, and their allies voted against the resolution, though it ultimately passed.<br /> <br /> In 2019, Russia introduced a resolution to establish an Open-ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Committee of Experts to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on “countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.” Leading digital rights and human rights organizations and experts urged delegations to vote against the resolution, warning that the proposed treaty poses a threat to human rights online.<br /> <br /> The resolution passed but with a smaller margin. The resolution potentially opens the scope of the proposed treaty to a broader definition of “cybercrime” that does not correspond to any previously established definition. The resolution also does not explicitly provide for the participation of nongovernmental organizations in the treaty development process.<br /> <br /> Recommendations<br /> <br /> Governments should increase international cooperation and capacity building around cybercrime in ways that respect human rights and the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said. Proceeding with a proposed treaty risks reinforcing increasingly common restrictions on freedom of expression, privacy, and due process rights.<br /> <br /> It is also essential for governments to adopt inclusive and transparent working methods at the organizational session to ensure that any negotiations do not undermine rights. Specifically, Human Rights Watch recommends:</p> Accrediting all interested nongovernmental groups, including those with relevant expertise but that do not have consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN;   Providing for written contributions and oral interventions from all accredited participants;  Providing for webcasting, remote participation, interpretation services, and online consultations to facilitate the participation of groups that are not able to participate in person; and Maintaining an up-to-date, dedicated webpage with relevant information, such as practical information (details on accreditation, time/location, and remote participation), organizational documents (i.e. agendas, discussions documents, etc.), statements and other intervention by states and other stakeholders, background documents, working documents and draft outputs, and meeting reports. Wed, 05 May 2021 00:01:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378648%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org UN Security Council: Adopt Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/un-security-council-adopt-global-arms-embargo-myanmar Click to expand Image A police officer stands in front of anti-coup protesters in Yangon, Myanmar, February 19, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo <p>(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar, Human Rights Watch and over 200 other nongovernmental organizations from around the world said today in a public appeal to council members. The Security Council should act swiftly to pressure the junta to stop violating the human rights of people protesting the February 1, 2021, coup and military rule.<br /> <br /> “The UN Security Council’s failure to even discuss an arms embargo against the junta is an appalling abdication of its responsibilities toward the people of Myanmar,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “The council’s occasional statements of concern in the face of the military’s violent repression of largely peaceful protesters is the diplomatic equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and walking away.”<br /> <br /> The groups said that the United Kingdom, the council’s designated drafter of Myanmar texts, should immediately open negotiations at the Security Council on a draft resolution authorizing an arms embargo. The UK has been reluctant to do so, prioritizing consensus statements supported by all council members over a resolution with substantive measures that China, Russia, and other members might initially oppose.<br /> <br /> “No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the groups said in their appeal. “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence. Arms and materiel provided to Myanmar’s security forces are likely to be used by the security forces to commit abuses in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”<br /> <br /> Myanmar’s military nullified the country’s November 2020 election results and imposed a manufactured “state of emergency.” State security forces have killed over 760 people since the coup and arbitrarily detained more than 3,600, including journalists, medical personnel, teachers, students, and others in violation of international human rights law. Hundreds may have been forcibly disappeared.<br /> <br /> A number of individual governments and the European Union have imposed sanctions on senior leaders of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, and companies controlled by the military; but the Security Council has only issued three statements since the military takeover. Those statements have called on the military to halt the excessive use of force against protesters and release political prisoners, including former President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other officials elected in the November 8, 2020, election. <br /> <br /> The groups’ appeal for an arms embargo echoes and broadens a February 24 declaration by 137 nongovernmental organizations, which urged the Security Council to act swiftly to halt the flow of weapons to the junta.<br /> <br /> “The time for statements has passed,” the groups said. “The Security Council should take its consensus on Myanmar to a new level and agree on immediate and substantive action. An arms embargo would be the centerpiece of a global effort to protect the people of Myanmar from further atrocities and help bring an end to impunity for crimes under international law.”<br /> <br /> The organizations also said they were disappointed with the April 24 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its failure “to take more robust action to protect Myanmar’s people.” The junta has ignored ASEAN’s call for an end to the violence.<br /> <br /> In February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres pledged to “do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails.” The UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has repeatedly called for an arms embargo and sanctions. Guterres’ special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has also called for targeted sanctions.<br /> <br /> The Security Council’s unwillingness to discuss a sanctions resolution represents a collective failure to heed the many calls to action from around the world. Human Rights Watch has said that the Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, global travel bans, and asset freezes on the leadership of the junta and military-owned conglomerates.<br /> <br /> The junta leader, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and several other military officials have been implicated in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Tatmadaw in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, and Chin States. Until the Security Council acts, individual UN member states should continue to adopt measures at the national and regional levels to block sales and other transfers of weapons and materiel to Myanmar, with the goal of creating a de facto global arms embargo, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> Governments should also demand that Security Council members that care about protecting the human rights of Myanmar’s people set aside concerns about resistance from the permanent members Russia and China, and circulate a draft resolution that council members can discuss and vote on. A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members to pass.<br /> <br /> “The Security Council has an unfortunate history of inaction on human rights in Myanmar, barely uttering a peep when the military carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya in 2017,” Charbonneau said. “The Security Council should call China and Russia’s bluff and put a sanctions resolution to a vote. If Moscow and Beijing side with a military already accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, they will have to pay for the rising political cost of their obstruction.”<br />  </p> Wed, 05 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378650%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org France: Police Expelling Migrant Children https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/france-police-expelling-migrant-children Click to expand Image A member of the French border police checks identity documents in March 2021 at the Menton-Garavan station, the first French train station for those travelling between Genoa, in Italy, and Nice, in France. © 2021 Sipa via AP Image <p>(Paris) – French police summarily expel dozens of unaccompanied children to Italy each month in violation of French and international law, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /> <br /> To enable the returns, the police frequently record on official documents different ages or birth dates than the children declared. The authorities have also summarily returned adults, including families with young children, without telling them they had a right to seek asylum in France.<br /> <br /> “The French border police have no legal authority to decide who is and who is not under 18,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of making snap judgments based on appearance or caprice, border police should refer young people to child protection authorities for appropriate care.”<br /> <br /> In late November 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed six unaccompanied children pushed back to Italy who said they had told French police they were under 18. In every case, even though the children stated their age and in some cases offered documentary evidence, the French authorities had recorded birth dates to suggest they were adults. Human Rights Watch also spoke with 27 adults who had been summarily expelled from France. None of the children or adults interviewed were told by French authorities that they could seek asylum in France.<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch also conducted in-person and remote interviews between November 2020 and April 2021 with volunteers and staff of aid groups, lawyers, and others working on both sides of the French-Italian border.<br /> <br /> Many of these returns take place at the border crossing between Menton, a French town about 30 kilometers from Nice, and the Italian town of Ventimiglia, on the Mediterranean coast. Police take children and adults found to have entered France irregularly to the French border post at the Saint-Louis Bridge and direct them to walk across to the Italian border post.<br /> <br /> Such experiences are common, nongovernmental groups working on the French-Italian border told Human Rights Watch. Staff with Diaconia Valdese and WeWorld, Italian organizations that provide legal support for migrants in Ventimiglia, said they see such cases nearly every day.<br /> <br /> In the first three weeks of February 2021, volunteers with Kesha Niya, a community kitchen in Ventimiglia offering meals and the opportunity to recharge phones to people who have been expelled from France, recorded accounts from more than 60 unaccompanied children who said they had been pushed back from France. The staff also recorded at least 30 such accounts from children in each of the previous three months, as well as in March and April.<br /> <br /> In each case, the children showed them entry refusal forms on which French police wrote false birth dates. Human Rights Watch viewed many of these forms, including for two Sudanese boys who gave their ages as 17 and 16, but whose ages French police listed as 27 and 20 respectively.<br /> <br /> People apprehended in the evening, including children, are often detained overnight in one of three prefabricated units, each about the size of a shipping container, before being pushed back to Italy. Children and adults said they were often hungry and cold in these cells.<br /> <br /> The close quarters offer no possibility for the social distancing advised by French Covid-19 public health guidance. French authorities do not provide detainees with masks or other protective equipment, children and adults interviewed said.<br /> <br /> Some children and adults also said the French police did not return all of their belongings before expelling them, including documents, phones with contact information, and, in a few cases, money.</p> <p>The Conseil d’État, France’s highest court for matters of administrative law, acknowledged in an April 23 decision that conditions of detention in the prefabricated units were “likely to undermine human dignity” but concluded that this risk did not meet the high legal bar required to order their immediate closure.<br /> <br /> French law allows border police to use an expedited procedure known as “refusal of entry” to return people arriving from Italy while intra-EU border controls are in effect. France reestablished EU border controls in November 2015, just before a series of bombings and shootings in Paris killed 131 people.<br /> <br /> Because Italian border agents do not accept unaccompanied children, French border police should transfer unaccompanied children to French child protection authorities. French border police are obligated to offer anyone, including unaccompanied children, the option of applying for asylum in France if they so request.<br /> <br /> Groups working in Ventimiglia said that French authorities pushed back between 80 and 120 people each day between July and the end of October, including both adults and children. When Italy and France imposed renewed restrictions on movement in late October in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of summary expulsions fell to an average of 50 to 70 per day, they said. In the months since, the groups have seen considerable variation in daily expulsion numbers, with summary expulsions exceeding 100 on some days. Unaccompanied children are among those pushed back nearly every day, they said.<br /> <br /> The French government has received repeated warnings in recent years that pushbacks frequently breached French law and international human rights law. In October, a joint report by Amnesty International and 10 other nongovernmental organizations found numerous cases in which French police wrote incorrect birth dates on entry refusal forms and then expelled youths who told police they were under age 18.<br /> <br /> France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights has also documented police use of false birth dates to expel unaccompanied children from Menton to Ventimiglia. French courts have on occasion ordered police to allow children to reenter France upon finding that officials had written false birth dates on expulsion documents.<br /> <br /> French authorities should direct border police to comply with French law and accept a person’s declared age if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child. They should be transferred to the care of French child protection authorities.<br /> <br /> French authorities should also ensure that border detention facilities for adults meet minimum human rights standards, including by providing conditions that are safe, sanitary, and consistent with human dignity. Unaccompanied children and families with children should not be detained in border cells.<br /> <br /> Italian authorities should ask people pushed back from France if the information on their entry refusal documents is accurate and should offer those who state they are under 18 and unaccompanied the option of transfer to the care of Italian child protection authorities or return to France to be placed in the care of the French child protection system, Human Rights Watch said. The Italian authorities should also ensure that anyone pushed back from France, adults as well as children, have food, shelter, clothing, and necessary medical care while they are in Italy.<br /> <br /> “Detention conditions in Menton’s border cells are abusive for people of any age. For children, they can be traumatizing,” Jeannerod said.<br /> <br /> For additional details, please see below.<br /> <br /> The Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed migrant children and adults in English, French, and Italian, according to their preference, assisted in some cases by a translation application. For instance, a 17-year-old Somali boy answered questions verbally in English after hearing the questions in English and reading them in Somali; similarly, Human Rights Watch checked its understanding of the account given in English by a man from Azerbaijan by using the application to translate follow-up questions into Russian. All names of children have been changed to preserve their privacy.</p> <p>The prefecture of the Alpes-Maritimes department, which oversees the border police in Menton, did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s request for comment on these findings.<br /> <br /> French Police Falsify Birth Dates<br /> <br /> Asif F., 17, from Pakistan, said that he had registered as under 18 with Italian authorities in Sicily. “When the French police stopped me, I said I was underage,” he said. Nonetheless, French police wrote his date of birth as 2000 – three years earlier than the date he gave them – on the entry refusal document, held him overnight, and then expelled him.<br /> <br /> Two Afghan boys, both 15, said that French police recorded their ages as 18 and 19, then sent them back to Italy. Tawfiiq M., 17, from Somalia, said French police disregarded his efforts to explain that he was not an adult and wrote on his entry refusal form that he was 20. Human Rights Watch viewed the entry refusal forms for two Sudanese boys who gave their ages as 17 and 16, but saw that French police had recorded as 27 and 20.<br /> <br /> Such cases are common, Human Rights Watch heard. Costanza Mendola of Diaconia Valdese, the legal assistance group in Ventimiglia, said that her organization had recorded more than 50 summary expulsions of unaccompanied children in October, “almost all with false dates on the refus d’entrée.” WeWorld, the other legal assistance organization interviewed, has also documented such cases.<br /> <br /> In the first half of November, volunteers with Kesha Niya, the community kitchen, which operates daily at a roadside site near the border post, saw at least 14 unaccompanied boys who said they were between 14 and 17. Among them, one from Côte d’Ivoire, another from Guinea, the third from Sudan, and the fourth from Tunisia said they had registered in Italy as under age 18 but that Italian authorities did not check the database after French police summarily expelled them. Three boys from Côte d’Ivoire said French police disregarded the photos of their birth certificates they showed. Two others said the police did not return their birth certificates before summarily expelling them.<br /> <br /> Over three days at the end of November, Kesha Niya volunteers saw 12 unaccompanied boys who gave their ages as under 18. One group of six Afghan boys said French border police did not return documents showing that the boys had given their ages as under 18 to authorities when they arrived in Austria. The other boys – from Côte d’Ivoire, Iran, and Sudan – all said that French police wrote down inaccurate birth dates on their entry refusal forms.<br /> <br /> Kesha Niya volunteers saw at least 30 unaccompanied children a month in December, January, February, March, and April who had been summarily expelled from France. On a single day in late February, volunteers spoke with 9 unaccompanied boys who had been summarily expelled that morning.<br /> <br /> Groups working in Ventimiglia began to see significant numbers of such summary expulsions after January 2018, when rulings of the Nice Administrative Tribunal found that French border police were not observing child protection safeguards. That year, the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, ASGI), Diaconia Valdese, and Oxfam described the summary expulsions of unaccompanied children as “systematic.”<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch has documented such practices elsewhere along the French-Italian border, but not with the frequency reported in the Alpes-Maritimes department.<br /> <br /> Italian authorities have sometimes checked their database to verify whether a person registered as a child upon arrival. In such cases, they have refused to accept the child from French authorities. In one case, however, when Human Rights Watch accompanied a WeWorld representative to the Italian border station to notify them that a child had been improperly expelled, the officer in charge said that they treat as accurate the date of birth French authorities provide unless the person has a birth certificate or other proof of age.<br /> <br /> Jacopo Colomba, a legal adviser with WeWorld, said: “Most of the time when we take a minor back to the [Italian] border station in cases like this one, the police agree to do a fingerprint check. They’ve taken the minor back to the French side if the fingerprint search shows he registered [in Italy] as underage. After Covid, though, we’ve seen a change. They often refuse to check the database.”<br /> <br /> Although there is no obvious reason why the pandemic would affect Italian authorities’ ability to check their database, Colomba said that they seemed to use Covid-19 as a pretext to refuse.<br /> <br /> If efforts like these are unsuccessful, lawyers in France have obtained court orders directing French police to accept unaccompanied children whom they have previously expelled. The legal process can take several weeks.<br /> <br /> Because children do not always give their true ages on arrival in Europe, verification of age through the Italian database alone is insufficient. For instance, Jamal I., a 17-year-old from Sudan, told Human Rights Watch he said he was an adult when he arrived in Italy, believing that he would be able to travel and work more easily if authorities believed he was 18. Others may give incorrect answers or be misunderstood if authorities interview them without competent interpreters.<br /> <br /> Locked Up Overnight in Crowded Cells Without Food <br /> <br /> After 7 p.m., when Italian border officials stop accepting those who are refused entry to France, French officials hold people apprehended and transferred to Saint Louis border station overnight. Adult men are held in prefabricated “modular units,” temporary structures about the size of shipping containers. France’s Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty observed during a 2017 visit that the modular units were each 15 square meters (160 square feet).<br /> <br /> Women and children, including unaccompanied children, should be held in a separate cell inside the border station, but boys whom French police deem to be adults spend the night with adult men. Tawfiiq M., a 17-year-old Somali boy, said he spent most of the night in a detention cell for adult men. “They didn’t give us any food,” he said, adding that he spent much of the night in tears from the stress of being locked up with men he did not know.<br /> <br /> Describing the detention cells for adult men, a 19-year-old Tunisian man said: “It’s cold. There’s not much food. There’s no place to sit.” A 29-year-old man from Mali said, “It’s like you imagine a bank vault might be. It’s not big. There were at least 20 of us inside. There’s not enough space to be able to keep apart, there is no possibility of social distancing. It is not safe.”<br /> <br /> “Young people can spend up to 13 hours in this place, with no blankets, no beds, no lights at night, no electrical outlets to charge phones,” said Zia Oloumi, a lawyer based in Nice. “On average, people spend five-and-a-half hours in this place, deprived of their liberty and without any knowledge of their rights.”<br /> <br /> “When they are detained, there is no interpreter and no information about rights,” said Emilie Pesselier, who follows developments at France’s borders with other EU countries for the nongovernmental organization Anafé. “If they ask to call a lawyer or a relative, ask for medical care, ask to seek asylum at the border, most of the time these requests are ignored.”<br /> <br /> Children and adults held in the detention cells said they did not receive medical care when they requested it, and other groups said the same thing. “People who ask for doctors or lawyers can’t see them,” said Agnès Lerolle, who manages Cafi, a joint migrants’ rights initiative of Amnesty International, La Cimade, Médecins du Monde, Médecins sans Frontières, and Sécours Catholique.<br /> <br /> “If they want to get medication from their own luggage, they can’t get access to it,” a Kesha Niya volunteer said. A November 30 Nice Administrative Tribunal order noted the lack of access to medical care for people held in the cells, among other shortcomings.<br /> <br /> A 2018 review of the Menton border cells by France’s Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty observed that both the prefabricated units and the room for women and unaccompanied children “do not benefit from basic equipment (lighting, heating, air conditioning, chairs, mattresses, blankets).” Similarly, a 2018 briefing paper by ASGI, Diaconia Valdese, and Oxfam noted that adults and children had been detained “in crowded conditions, without food or water, without blankets or mattresses, without any information on what is happening” before their expulsion to Italy the next morning. France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights called for the closure of the prefabricated units in 2019.<br /> <br /> From the accounts Human Rights Watch collected, little appears to have changed in the intervening years. A November video of the interior of one of these cells viewed by Human Rights Watch and subsequently posted on Kesha Niya’s Facebook page shows people seated and lying on metal benches with no blankets or mattresses, conditions corresponding with the inspector general’s 2018 observations.<br /> <br /> A Nice Administrative Tribunal judge ruled in July 2017 that people should not be detained for more than four hours in the prefabricated units, the maximum time allowed under French law for authorities to hold a person to verify identity. The Conseil d’État, France’s highest court for matters of administrative law, upheld this finding. “These are not lawful places of detention for longer periods. Juridically speaking, they are a black hole,” said WeWorld legal adviser, Colomba.<br /> <br /> In an apparent effort to avoid having to apply the court ruling, the French authorities now describe the cells as places of “shelter” (mise à l’abri) rather than of detention. This euphemistic sleight-of-hand is legally baseless, said Zia Oloumi, the lawyer in Nice, an assessment shared by other lawyers who spoke with Human Rights Watch. “At the end of the day, we can plainly see that it is detention,” said Pesselier, of Anafé. “The people held there are not free to leave.”</p> <p>“For people who are in a fragile psychological state, detention in these conditions can be especially hard,” Lerolle said.<br /> <br /> French Police Confiscate Documents, Phones, Money<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch heard from six adults who had been summarily expelled from France that French police did not return their identity documents. Their accounts are consistent with other reports of similar experiences.<br /> <br /> A 21-year-old Nigerian man who had applied for asylum in France said that when French police apprehended him as he returned from a short visit to Italy, “the police took my letter showing I had an asylum case.”<br /> <br /> “It’s quite common for French police to take these papers,” said Colomba. “We also hear that French police have taken identity cards and residence permits from Italy and other EU countries.” Amnesty International, Anafé, La Cimade, Médecins du Monde, Médecins sans Frontières, Secours Catholique, and other groups have also reported confiscation and destruction of identity documents by French police in and around Menton.<br /> <br /> Four people, including one 17-year-old boy, said that the police had confiscated and failed to return their phones, money, or other personal possessions. In one such case, an adult man from Azerbaijan said the French police took his money and phone when they apprehended him while he was walking along the train tracks between Ventimiglia and Menton. “The phone had all my contacts,” he said.<br /> <br /> Limited Services for Migrants in Ventimiglia<br /> <br /> A reception center in Ventimiglia managed by the Red Cross, the Roya camp, stopped accepting new arrivals in May 2020 to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The camp closed in July. Since that time, children and adults who are pushed back to Italy have often had to sleep on the streets in Ventimiglia.<br /> <br /> The limited services for migrants in Ventimiglia are largely initiatives of religious or humanitarian groups. A shelter for families with children operates in a building owned by the local Catholic parish. Kesha Niya’s community kitchen is a volunteer initiative supported by donations. Save the Children and Caritas opened a day center for unaccompanied children and families at the end of February.<br /> <br /> Consistent with the human right to an adequate standard of living and the recommendation of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers that states “should recognise, in their law and practice, a right to the satisfaction of basic material needs of any person in a situation of extreme hardship,” Italy should ensure that children and adults summarily expelled from France have access to adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, including in Ventimiglia.<br /> <br /> Exceptional Border Checks; Refusal of Entry<br /> <br /> Free movement within the European Union means, in principle, that people who travel between Italy and France are not subject to border checks. But France reestablished border controls in November 2015, just before attacks in Paris killed 131 people. The authorities initially justified these controls as a precautionary measure in advance of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. They have regularly renewed border controls at six-month intervals since then, using other rationales. People found to be in France irregularly may be subject to an expedited procedure, “refusal of entry” (refus d’entrée), if they are stopped by police within 10 kilometers of the border with another EU member state while the reintroduction of land border controls is in effect.<br /> <br /> A reform of the immigration and asylum laws in September 2018 eliminated a procedural protection known as the jour franc, which gave people detained at or near the border for immigration violations a day to seek legal assistance before their expulsion.<br /> <br /> In addition, French authorities can conduct immigration checks within 20 kilometers of a land border with another EU member state as well as at international train stations, marine ports, and airports. People found to be in France irregularly should not be refused entry if they are more than 10 kilometers from the border, but French authorities can apply a separate “readmission process,” under a contested bilateral agreement between France and Italy known as the Chambery agreement, to send them to Italy. All of those interviewed appeared to have been expelled under the entry refusal process.<br /> <br /> The entry refusal process relies on the legal fiction that people who are on French territory within 10 kilometers of the border have not “entered” France, much in the same way that French law considers people detained at French airports to be in “transit zones” (zones d’attente) awaiting legal entry to France, even if they are transferred to hospitals or hotels. In theory, people who are refused entry have the right to request asylum in France.<br /> <br /> Prior to February 2018, French police turned people back without following any procedure. After the inspector general of places of deprivation of liberty recommended in September 2017 an “immediate end” to what she concluded were “illegal practices of refoulement [forcible return],” the prefecture ordered that anyone apprehended for possible immigration violations must be taken to the Saint-Louis border post for an investigation and, if warranted, the issuance of an entry refusal document.<br /> <br /> Before refusing entry, authorities should issue a written refusal to a person found to be in France irregularly, using a language the individual understands, and should inform the person of the right to seek asylum and the right to appeal the refusal of entry, among other rights. Children may be refused entry, but they should be appointed a guardian. This protection does not appear to be observed in practice.<br /> <br /> Under the EU Asylum Procedures Directive and the EU Dublin III Regulation, unaccompanied children who have applied for asylum in France should not be returned to Italy. In addition, unaccompanied children with family members in France have the right to family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation, meaning that those children should also not be returned to Italy.<br /> <br /> In July 2020, the Conseil d’État, France’s highest court for administrative matters, confirmed that people who request asylum should not be refused entry until their asylum applications can be considered.<br /> <br /> The children and adults interviewed by Human Rights Watch were not informed of their right to seek asylum, nor were they afforded an opportunity to do so. “People who say they want to apply for asylum are turned away in the same way as everybody else at the border,” said Mireille Damiano, a lawyer in Nice. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, the police response is that people coming from Italy should have applied for asylum in Italy,” she said.<br /> <br /> “In practice, nobody is able to claim the right to asylum,” Lerolle said.</p> Wed, 05 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378427%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org Vietnam: Free Democracy Activist Mother, Sons https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/04/vietnam-free-democracy-activist-mother-sons Click to expand Image Trịnh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu  © 2018 Private <p>(New York) – The Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the democracy campaigner Can Thi Theu and her two sons and drop all charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Can Thi Theu and her younger son, Trinh Ba Tu, face trial on May 5, 2021. All three have been detained since June 2020.<br /> <br /> Over the past decade, Can Thi Theu, along with her husband, Trinh Ba Khiem, and two sons, have engaged in numerous protests and campaigns over human rights, land rights, and environmental protection, among other issues. The authorities have previously jailed her and her husband, and have repeatedly harassed and intimidated them and their family.<br /> <br /> “Can Thi Theu and her family have been outspoken defenders of human rights in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director. “The Vietnamese government should be listening to people like this brave family, not throwing them in jail.”<br /> <br /> In separate arrests on June 24, 2020, police in Hoa Binh province and Hanoi detained Can Thi Theu, 59, and her sons Trinh Ba Tu, 32, and Trinh Ba Phuong, 36. The three were charged with conducting propaganda against the state under article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code. The authorities the same day also arrested Nguyen Thi Tam, 49, a land rights activist who campaigned with the family, and charged her under the same provision. She remains in police custody awaiting trial.<br /> <br /> For nine months, officials blocked legal counsel from meeting with Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, in violation of international human rights standards. Their family members were not allowed to see them. No trial date has been set for the older brother, Trinh Ba Phuong, who continues to be held without access to legal counsel or family.<br /> <br /> Vietnam has arrested hundreds of dissidents in recent years and 137 political prisoners are currently serving criminal sentences related to their human rights advocacy or criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch research found. During the first four months of 2021, the authorities arrested an additional 10 dissidents, including the prominent rights campaigner Nguyen Thuy Hanh. Courts have convicted at least 12 dissidents during this period and have imposed sentences ranging from 2 to 15 years.<br /> <br /> Can Thi Theu emerged in the mid-2000s as a prominent land rights activist who fought against government confiscation of land. In April 2014, the police arrested her for filming government land confiscation and later sentenced her to 15 months in prison for “resisting against those who are on public duties,” under article 257 of the penal code. Her husband was also arrested on the same day and served 14 months in prison on similar charges.<br /> <br /> After completing her prison term, Can Thi Theu immediately resumed her human rights advocacy work. She participated in environmental protests, and publicly voiced support for other human rights activists and political prisoners. In June 2016, police arrested her again for participating in a protest against land confiscation, and three months later, she was sentenced to 20 months in prison.<br /> <br /> After her release in February 2018, Can Thi Theu immediately restarted her human rights advocacy. She made an impassioned speech to supporters upon her return home, stating that she had only “left a small prison and returned to the big prison.” She condemned the government’s abuses while vowing to continue to fight for human rights and said that other governments and international human rights organizations should voice support for Vietnamese human rights defenders.<br /> <br /> Can Thi Theu’s son, Trinh Ba Tu, became an activist after witnessing retaliation against his parents. In June 2015, when he and other activists were welcoming his father as he was released from prison in Nghe An province, a group of men – most likely plainclothes police – attacked them, and Trinh Ba Tu suffered serious injuries.<br /> <br /> Trinh Ba Tu reportedly carried out a 20-day hunger strike in August, protesting “mistreatment against him and other prisoners.”<br /> <br /> Prior to their arrests, the three family members were instrumental in amplifying the voices of the community of Dong Tam commune, where a police raid in January 2020 resulted in the deaths of an 84-year-old farmer, Le Dinh Kinh, and three policemen. Can Thi Theu and her sons were among the authors of the “Dong Tam Report,” which shed light on the violent land clash.<br /> <br /> In October, the police arrested another author of the Dong Tam Report, the prominent dissident Pham Doan Trang. The only co-author of this report who has not been arrested lives outside of Vietnam. The legal case against Can Thi Theu and her sons appears to be based in part on their association with Pham Doan Trang. Police told state media that after their arrests, during a search of their house, police seized a number of books and documents, listing several titles of works that were written by Pham Doan Trang.<br /> <br /> Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu appear to have anticipated their arrests. On the day they were arrested, pre-recorded videos were posted on Facebook in which they expressed concern of being tortured and killed by police, and asked supporters and family members to publicly display their bodies if they were killed, to expose the crimes against them.<br /> <br /> Since the arrest of Can Thi Theu and her sons, the police have continued to harass and threaten other members of her family, including her husband, her daughter-in-law, Do Thi Thu, and her son-in-law, Pham Xuan Truong.<br /> <br /> “Even in the face of persecution and brutality, Can Thi Theu and her family have shown immense courage pursuing human rights advocacy, while the Vietnamese government has lacked the courage to even listen to its citizens’ complaints,” Sifton said. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners need to speak out in support of these brave dissidents and condemn Vietnam’s dismal record of repression.”<br /> <br /> Update: On May 5, 2021, a court in Vietnam sentenced Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu to eight years in prison and three years of probation after their release.</p> Tue, 04 May 2021 15:25:04 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378628%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org India’s Leaders Obsessed with Criticism, Not Medical Shortages https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/05/indias-leaders-obsessed-criticism-not-medical-shortages Click to expand Image People wait to get tested for Covid-19 in Hyderabad, India, April 25, 2021.  © 2021 AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A. <p>Indian groups trying to locate assistance for Covid-19 patients are finding that the requests keep coming. Although the government has attempted to increase medical supply stocks, distribution remains patchy.</p> <p>The authorities have often responded to criticism of such failures with anger and any advice with scorn.</p> <p>India’s solicitor general, during the hearing of a plea to address oxygen shortages in Delhi, said in court, “Let's try and not be a cry baby.” The health minister snubbed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his suggestions, accusing his opposition Congress party of “spreading falsehoods.” Denying supply scarcities, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister threatened to use India’s draconian National Security Act to seize the property of anyone, including health workers, who complained. India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, entered into an unseemly squabble with political opposition members over helping foreign embassies with emergency supplies.</p> <p>The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears obsessed about managing the narrative even as the country reports over 400,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, and over 3,000 deaths.</p> <p>Many have remarked on the administration’s failure in handling the pandemic, including its misplaced priorities. Even as it pledged vaccines to the world, India’s primary vaccine manufacturer is now failing to fulfill contracts. Meanwhile, the company’s owner said he had to leave India because of threats, adding that if he remarked about the triggers for the crisis, including massive election rallies and a Hindu religious event, his “head would be chopped off.”</p> <p>While his concerns may be exaggerated, and he has since said he will return, the comment reflects the government’s inability to admit shortcomings, compelling people to self-censor. As the virus spreads to rural communities, this is only going to hurt those desperately in need, particularly if healthcare experts and workers fear retaliation for speaking out.</p> <p>The international community should help deal with shortages and access to vaccines. It should also seek transparency and accountability for ensuring timely and equitable distribution throughout India and press the government to reverse its abusive policies, including the jailing of peaceful activists and critics.</p> <p>The Supreme Court has already warned that it will treat as contempt any police action against citizens that “communicate their grievance on social media and internet.” India’s devastating Covid-19 crisis needs such a rights-respecting response.  </p> Tue, 04 May 2021 13:20:47 -0400 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/378647%20at%20https%3A//www.hrw.org