Human Rights Watch News en US Resuming Arms Sales to UAE is Disastrous Click to expand Image Southern Transitional Council forces backed by the United Arab Emirates prepare to storm the presidential palace in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen on August 9, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo <p>United States President Joe Biden called in early February for “ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” At the time, I, like many human rights advocates who have been documenting abuses committed during the armed conflict in Yemen, thought we were finally moving in the right direction after years of work. But now, after a review of arms sales to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Biden administration has backed out of its pledge, announcing it will resume the proposed arms deal with the UAE, a party to the conflict in Yemen.<br /> <br /> Despite announcing the withdrawal of most of its ground troops in mid-2019, the UAE has continued its air operations and support for abusive local Yemeni ground forces, according to United Nations investigators. The UAE’s huge influence inside Yemen remains clear. I am regularly overwhelmed by messages from people in southern Yemen telling me about egregious abuses regularly committed by UAE-backed local forces.<br /> <br /> In February, Human Rights Watch reported on the agonizing detention of a Yemeni journalist who was first threatened by an official from the UAE and detained and mistreated by UAE-backed forces.<br /> <br /> Any re-examination of US arms sales to the UAE should have determined that the risk they could be used to commit laws-of-war violations is high, especially given the evidence that the Saudi and UAE-led coalition have already used US weapons in bombings unlawfully harming civilians and civilian sites in Yemen since the beginning of the war in 2015. Many of those attacks may amount to war crimes.<br /> <br /> The UAE’s violations extend beyond Yemen. In Libya, the UAE has conducted unlawful strikes and provided military support to abusive local forces. Human Rights Watch identified an apparently unlawful UAE drone attack that hit a biscuit factory in November 2019, killing 8 civilians and wounding 27.<br /> <br /> Resuming arms sales without first ensuring that the UAE is taking meaningful steps towards accountability for previous unlawful attacks just creates a situation in which those violations could happen again, with no one being held responsible. In resuming these arms sales, the US government once again risks complicity in future violations.</p> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 14:15:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch UN Security Council Needs to Act on Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Click to expand Image Children in front of the Africa/Ayga hotel likely damaged by a direct fire weapon in Humera town, Tigray region, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. © 2020 Eduardo Soteras for Agence France Press <p>Today is the fifth time the United Nations Security Council will discuss the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region behind closed doors. Five months into one of the world’s gravest humanitarian and human rights crises, the UN’s most powerful body needs to end its paralysis and support concrete measures to deter further abuses.  </p> <p>China and Russia, permanent members to the Security Council, have undermined small efforts by other members to move discussions beyond the humanitarian situation and condemn ongoing abuses in Tigray. In its last discussion in March, the council didn’t reach a consensus and failed to issue a statement.</p> <p>Meanwhile, evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in Tigray continues to mount, leaving no doubt over the gravity of the situation and its impact on Ethiopia and the wider region.</p> <p>This week, after the Ethiopian government announced the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from its borders, Eritrean forces opened fire on civilians in the border town of Adwa, reportedly leaving at least nine dead and dozens injured. In late March, Ethiopian forces executed four men in front of Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) staff. Health officials and the UN continue to report on horrific sexual violence by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Millions remain in need of food assistance.</p> <p>Greater scrutiny and unified action by the Security Council is needed for meaningful impact. The council should hold a public session and condemn the rights abuses and humanitarian disaster unfolding before their eyes. It should voice clear support for independent oversight of humanitarian assistance and an independent, international investigation into alleged crimes committed by all parties with the aim of paving the way for a credible accountability process. The council should also make clear that failure to cooperate with such efforts could result in targeted sanctions.</p> <p>Tigrayans from all walks of life have repeatedly described feeling abandoned not only by their government but also the world. The UN Security Council needs to step up in the face of this blatant disregard for human suffering and international norms and take action today.</p> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:38:05 -0400 Human Rights Watch Poland’s Top Watchdog Removed at Government’s Behest Click to expand Image Adam Bodnar, the outgoing Human Rights Commission for Poland, speaks to The Associated Press from his office in Warsaw, Poland, October 19, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File <p>A government-captured court has removed Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsmen Adam Bodnar from his post, likely spelling the end of one of last independent checks on the country’s abusive government.</p> <p>The battle for the future of the Ombudsman has been going on for months. When Bodnar’s mandate ended in September, the law provided that he should stay in office until a successor is appointed.</p> <p>But the candidate proposed by Poland’s ruling party, Law-and-Justice, was rejected by the Polish Senate. To break this stalemate, the party used the coopted Constitutional Tribunal to rule that the continuity provision was unconstitutional and shouldn’t be applied anymore. Today the tribunal ordered Bodnar be removed from his position.</p> <p>This is the same court that carried out the government’s wishes in October and eliminated one of few grounds for abortion when the government could not get legislation to do so through parliament.</p> <p>The Bodnar case is yet another example of Poland’s assault on the rule of law. Since 2015, the government has politicized judicial appointments, refused to implement judgements and severely undermined the Constitutional Tribunal’s independence and effectiveness.</p> <p>With the courts compromised, the Ombudsman’s office under Bodnar has been one of a few remaining checks on the executive. His removal comes days after his office blocked the take-over of news-agency Polska Press by a state-owned oil company – a move that would have further reduced media pluralism.</p> <p>EU institutions know how bad the situation is. In December 2017, when it triggered Article 7 – the mechanism handling countries breaching EU values – the European Commission quoted the lack of independence of constitutional review. In September 2020, it noted that “concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal” remain unresolved. But in practice the Commission has so far done little to respond to the erosion of the rule of law and failed to address the government’s use of a compromised court to roll back women’s rights.</p> <p>The European Commission should break its silence and take action. It’s time to tackle the use of the Tribunal to bypass Poland’s parliament and erode fundamental rights, and press EU states to act.</p> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:23:35 -0400 Human Rights Watch North Korea: US Should Refocus on Rights Concerns Click to expand Image Commuters watch a news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Joe Biden at the Suseo Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 26, 2021.  © 2021 AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon <p>(Washington, DC) – The United States government should emphasize the promotion of human rights in its policies on North Korea, 11 human rights groups said today in a letter to President Joe Biden. The groups, including Human Rights Watch, urged the US government to integrate human rights concerns into future negotiations with North Korea, and not separate or make them secondary to security and counter-proliferation issues. <br /> <br /> “Human rights need to be part of any and all US negotiations with North Korea,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, who also testified before a US congressional panel on human rights on the Korean peninsula on April 15, 2021. “Human rights and weapons proliferation issues cannot be separated, since the North Korea military depends on widespread forced labor and a massive diversion of government resources from basic human needs for arms development.”<br /> <br /> The Biden administration is currently reviewing its policy on North Korea. The groups said that US law makes broad sanctions relief for North Korea contingent on human rights improvements and that counter-proliferation experts now acknowledge that successful monitoring of weapons agreements requires more general reforms by the North Korean government.<br /> <br /> The US should also increase efforts at the United Nations Security Council for new debates on the human rights situation in North Korea as a threat to regional peace and security, the groups said. Biden should promptly appoint a special US envoy on North Korean human rights issues, increase support for North Korean people’s access to information, and act to protect North Korean refugees.<br /> <br /> In the context of Covid-19, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has used the pandemic to further entrench his already firm grip on power, install harsh new controls on the distribution of food and products, stopped all information flows into the country, and entirely closed North Korea’s border with China. These steps appear to be connected to reported shortages of food and basic supplies, which have raised serious concerns about mass famine.<br /> <br /> The US should work with China, South Korea, Japan, and the European Union and its member states to urge the North Korean government to restart imports of food and other necessities.<br /> <br /> The North Korean government should accept humanitarian aid while allowing monitoring and distribution activity and reduce the spread of Covid-19 among prisoners, the groups said.<br /> <br /> “Any sustained diplomatic progress or durable counter-proliferation process will need the North Korean government to improve its cooperation with the UN system in general, to allow enough openness for genuine monitoring,” Sifton said.</p> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:02:09 -0400 Human Rights Watch South Sudan Government Reshuffle Emboldens Rights Abusers Click to expand Image In this government-issued photo, former National Security Service official Akol Koor Kuc (L) is pictured meeting with President Salva Kiir (R) in Juba, South Sudan, August 2020.  <p>On April 10 South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, with apparent disregard for the many crimes committed by the National Security Service (NSS), promoted one of its top officials, Akol Koor Kuc, to the rank of First Lieutenant General. This move is yet another slap in the face to the many victims of the NSS’s horrific and well-documented crimes committed under Kuc’s watch.</p> <p>In a December report, Human Rights Watch documented how the NSS has become the favored tool for South Sudan’s leadership to carry out arbitrary arrests, abusive detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal surveillance. It has regularly targeted journalists, activists, opposition figures, and critics. All of this has occurred with little to no accountability or justice for victims.</p> <p>We found that Kuc, who heads the internal security bureau, together with the Minister for National Security, Mamur Obote, and outgoing head of the General Intelligence Bureau, Thomas Duoth Guet (now appointed as South Sudan’s ambassador to Kuwait), failed to end systemic human rights violations by the NSS or ensure credible investigations and criminal accountability for officers implicated in abuse.</p> <p>Instead of rewarding Kuc with a promotion, President Kiir should ensure there is an effective investigation into him and his colleagues for their role in the abuses. The government should also rein in the NSS and ensure that the NSS law is reformed to genuinely limit the agency’s role and powers while strengthening judicial and parliamentary oversight.</p> <p>This is not the first time South Sudan has condoned impunity for abuses. Several officials sanctioned by the United Nations still hold key government positions. In the same reshuffle that saw Kuc promoted, Santino Deng Wol, a man sanctioned by the UN for his role in a May 2015 offensive in Unity State during which government forces killed dozens of women, children, and older people, and looted civilian property, was appointed as the new army chief of staff.</p> <p>As South Sudan continues to show no political will to hold senior officials to account for abuses, it falls on the country’s regional and development partners to step up pressure to promote the rule of law. They should insist that investigating and holding to account top leaders like Kuc for potential criminal responsibility be a top priority.</p> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 16:40:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Pakistan’s ‘Father’ of Human Rights Passes Away Click to expand Image I.A. Rehman, center, addresses a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 16, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File <p>Many years ago, I.A. Rehman said to my young, overconfident, and impatient self, “This [struggle for human rights] is a marathon, not a sprint.” Rehman’s long, victorious marathon came to an end on April 12. Three generations of Pakistani human rights activists, journalists, trade unionists, women rights advocates, farmers, religious minorities, and millions of ordinary Pakistanis have been left orphaned. Rehman, or “Rehman Sahib” as he was almost universally known, started working as a journalist and human rights activist in the early 1950s and published his last regular newspaper column four days before his death.</p> <p>He opposed and actively resisted four military dictatorships and in return was imprisoned, fired from jobs, threatened, and banned. He was one of the first and loudest voices to oppose Pakistan’s abusive blasphemy laws. His resolve to help victims of these laws was not dampened even when his nephew, the lawyer Rashid Rehman, was assassinated in 2014 for representing a university professor charged under the blasphemy law. Even at nearly 90 years old, Rehman would join protest camps for victims of enforced disappearances, walk with landless peasants, and stand on the frontline holding placards for the Aurat (Women’s) March.</p> <p>In 1990, Rehman joined the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as a director and later secretary-general and for the next 25 years his leadership and vision helped turn it into Pakistan’s largest and most effective human rights organization. In 1994 Human Rights Watch honored him for his human rights activism. For more than six decades he remained the flagbearer for free expression in Pakistan.</p> <p>His long battle with tyranny, oppression and injustice did not make him bitter or cynical. He retained his sense of humor, calm, and an informed sense of optimism. Pakistan and the world will miss Rehman for his unwavering belief in freedom of expression, rule of law, equality, and above all for his decency and courage.</p> <p>In 2018, when Rehman’s protégé and friend Asma Jahangir, who herself was an icon for human rights, passed away, he said to me in Urdu, “yeh Janay ka waqt nahien thaa” (“It was not time yet”). For Pakistan’s human rights movement, no time for the departure of Rehman and Asma would have been the right time. The ultimate tribute to Rehman Sahib’s legacy is to take his struggle forward.</p> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 09:01:37 -0400 Human Rights Watch Australia: Act on Indigenous Deaths in Custody Click to expand Image Jacinta Miller holds a painting by her brother Stanley, a 19-year-old Noongar man with a mental health condition, who is suspected to have taken his own life in Acacia Prison, Wooroloo, on July 11, 2020. Stanley was a talented artist who had been planning an exhibition of his artwork upon his release. © 2020 Sophie McNeill/Human Rights Watch <p>(Sydney) – The Australian government’s continued failure to address Indigenous deaths in custody tarnishes the country’s rights record and global standing, Human Rights Watch said today. April 15, 2021, is the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which contained numerous recommendations for reform.</p> <p>An Indigenous man held in Casuarina Prison in Perth died on April 3 after being transferred to the hospital, the fifth Indigenous death in custody in just over a month. The Guardian’s Deaths in Custody tracking project reported that since the 1991 Royal Commission, more than 470 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in Australia. Some of these deaths were clearly preventable, from suicide, violence, or a lack of prison support.</p> <p>“Three decades since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, First Nations people in Australia are still unacceptably being incarcerated and dying in prison,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the recent spate of Indigenous deaths in custody, it’s clear that this is a national crisis.”</p> <p>The 1991 Royal Commission noted that more Aboriginal people were likely to die in custody partly because they were incarcerated at disproportionate rates. At the time, Aboriginal people made up about 14 percent of Australia’s prison population. Thirty years on, the rate of Indigenous incarceration has doubled, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprising 29 percent of the adult prison population but just 3 percent of the national population.</p> <p>In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch documented the serious risk of self-harm and death for prisoners with mental health conditions, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, in Western Australia. Between 2010 and 2020, about 60 percent of adults who died in prisons in Western Australia had a disability.</p> <p>The 1991 Royal Commission made 339 recommendations in its final report. Among the commission’s findings were serious concerns regarding the “extreme anxiety” caused by solitary confinement, which was noted to have a particularly detrimental impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners.</p> <p>The Australian government should make a commitment to fully implement the Royal Commission recommendations. Aboriginal people should be imprisoned only as a last resort, and general and mental health services in prisons should be culturally appropriate. The government should make it a priority to end solitary confinement for people with disabilities and raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>“Thirty years since the Royal Commission, there is still a pressing need for adequate and culturally appropriate mental health support for prisoners,” Pearson said. “Instead of focusing on changing the physical infrastructure of prisons to make it harder for people to harm themselves, the Australian government should act to end preventable prison deaths by improving services and support.”</p> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 08:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Mexico: Online Free Speech at Risk Click to expand Image In this Dec. 18, 2020 file photo, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gives his daily morning news conference at the presidential palace in Mexico City. On January 14, 2021, López Obrador vowed to lead an international effort to combat what he considers censorship by social media companies that blocked or suspended the accounts of Former US President Donald Trump. © 2020 AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File. <p>(Washington, DC) – Mexican Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal’s proposed bill to regulate social media networks could severely restrict free speech in Mexico, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill would require companies to censor broadly defined categories of online content in violation of international norms currently in force. Senator Monreal should withdraw his proposal.</p> <p>On February 8, just a few weeks after social media networks like Twitter and Facebook suspended the accounts of Former US President Donald Trump, Senator Monreal, who leads President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, Morena, in the Senate, published a draft bill on his website that would impose regulations on social media networks with users in Mexico. In January, President López Obrador had expressed his concern over the power of the networks to suspend Trump’s accounts.   </p> <p>“This bill would place the harshest restrictions on free speech that Mexico has seen in decades, opening the door to bans on social media networks and enabling the government to censor speech it disagrees with,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Senator Monreal claims he wants to protect free speech in Mexico, but this bill would do exactly the opposite.”</p> <p>The draft bill would make Mexico’s telecommunications and broadcasting regulator, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT), the final arbiter in disputes over content moderation, empowering it to overrule social media network operators’ decisions about how and when to delete a user’s content or suspend or cancel their account. And it would enable the IFT to punish social media network operators with fines of up to US $4.4 million if they fail to comply with its rules or if the IFT disagrees with their content moderation decisions. This could encourage further media concentration by forcing smaller companies to stop operating in Mexico altogether to avoid steep fines.</p> <p>Under the bill, any social media network with one million or more users would need to obtain permission from the IFT to operate in Mexico. The IFT would be able to set rules about how social media networks operate and the types of content they can allow. And it would have the authority to review and change the networks’ terms of service, the rules that users must follow.</p> <p>In effect, this would enable the IFT to prevent any social media network from operating in Mexico or prohibit users in Mexico from joining an “unauthorized” network, placing significant limits on freedom of expression. It could also encourage social media networks themselves to begin blocking users from Mexico to avoid the IFT review process.</p> <p>The draft bill would also require social media networks to censor certain types of speech, such as “hate messages,” “fake news,” and any other type of speech the IFT deems should be censored to preserve “order and public interest.” The bill does not provide clear guidelines on what these terms mean, however, requiring social media network operators or the IFT to make determinations about whether statements are true or false. These requirements could lead to arbitrary censorship of legitimate content, enabling the government to force social media networks to censor content it disagrees with. This would be inconsistent with the prohibition on prior censorship in the American Convention on Human Rights.</p> <p>Finally, the bill would prohibit social media networks from moderating the content on their platforms for reasons that the bill does not specifically mention, such as to prevent spam. This would restrict the ability of social media networks to make reasonable decisions about what kind of content they allow. Social media networks focused on specific groups, subjects, or interests, such as environmental issues or Indigenous culture, would be unable to operate.</p> <p>Protecting free speech on the internet, ensuring that private entities do not interfere with that freedom, and giving people the ability to appeal restrictions on their speech are legitimate goals. But under international human rights law, Mexico has a responsibility to promote a “free, independent, and diverse communications environment,” and an obligation to ensure that any restriction on speech is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose. This includes regulation of speech through “indirect methods or means,” such as government controls over media companies.</p> <p>Under international human rights standards, Mexico should not pass laws against so-called “fake news” or other “vague and ambiguous ideas,” or impose unnecessary or disproportionate restrictions on social media networks or online content. Instead it should promote media diversity and digital literacy. It should also incentivize companies to be transparent about their content moderation policies and to offer remedies for users whose accounts are suspended so that they can make their own choices about which platforms to use and how.  </p> <p>“Senator Monreal’s proposal is nothing more than censorship—pure and simple. It violates international legal standards by allowing the Mexican government to restrict access to certain websites and to decide what content social media users can and can’t share,” Vivanco said. “Imposing these kinds of heavy-handed regulations will stifle free speech, not protect it.”</p> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 01:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Cameroon: Wave of Arrests, Abuse Against LGBT People Click to expand Image Njeuken Loic (known as “Shakiro”) and Mouthe Roland (known as “Patricia”), two transgender women, in a Douala prison. © Private, Douala, Cameroon, March 2021 <p>(Nairobi) – Cameroonian security forces have arbitrarily arrested, beaten, or threatened at least 24 people, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity, since February 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. At least one of them was forced to undergo an HIV test and anal examination.<br /> <br /> Based on Human Rights Watch’s monitoring and discussions with Cameroonian nongovernmental organizations, the recent accounts of abuse documented here seem to be part of an overall uptick in police action against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Cameroon. Sexual relations between people of the same sex are criminalized in Cameroon and punished with up to five years in prison.<br /> <br /> “These recent arrests and abuses raise serious concerns about a new upsurge in anti-LGBT persecution in Cameroon,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The law criminalizing same-sex conduct puts LGBT people at a heightened risk of being mistreated, tortured, and assaulted without any consequences for the abusers.”<br /> <br /> Between February 17 and April 8, Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone 18 people, including 5 who had been detained, 3 lawyers, and 10 members of Cameroonian LGBT nongovernmental organizations. Human Rights Watch also reviewed reports by Cameroonian and international LGBT organizations, court documents, police reports, and medical records.<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the justice minister, Laurent Esso; the state secretary at the Defense Ministry in charge of the national gendarmerie, Yves Landry Etoga; and the delegate general for national security, Martin Mbarga Nguele, in a March 25 letter, requesting answers to specific questions. Cameroonian officials have yet to respond. <br /> <br /> On February 24, police officers raided the office of Colibri, an organization that provides HIV prevention and treatment services, in Bafoussam, West Region, and arrested 13 people on homosexuality charges, including 7 Colibri staff. The police released all 13 people on February 26 and 27. Three of those arrested said that police beat at least three Colibri staff members at the police station and that the police threatened and verbally assaulted all those arrested. They also said that the police interrogated them without the presence of a lawyer and forced them to sign statements they were not allowed to read.<br /> <br /> One of them, a 22-year-old transgender woman, said: “Police told us we are devils, not humans, not normal. They beat a trans woman in the face, slapped her twice in front of me.”<br /> <br /> Police also forced one of the 13 arrested, a 26-year-old transgender woman, to undergo an HIV test and anal examination at a health center in Bafoussam on February 25. She told Human Rights Watch: “The doctor was embarrassed but said he had to do the examination because the prosecutor needed it. He carried out the examination. I had to bend over. The doctor wore gloves and put in his finger. It was the most humiliating thing I’ve ever experienced.”<br /> <br /> What this transgender woman experienced is not an isolated case. Human Rights Watch has previously documented that prosecutors in Cameroon have introduced medical reports based on forced anal exams into court, contributing to convictions of individuals charged with consensual homosexual conduct.<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch documented two additional arrests in 2021 and one mass arrest in 2020. In Bertoua, on February 14, gendarmes arrested 12 youth, including at least 1 teenager, on homosexuality charges and subjected them to ill-treatment before releasing them the same day. On February 8, gendarmes arbitrarily arrested two transgender women in Douala, targeting them in the street on the basis of their gender expression. Prosecutors charged them with homosexual conduct, lack of identity cards, and public indecency.<br /> <br /> “It is not illegal to be homosexual or transgender,” said Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom. “According to Cameroonian law, it is the act which is the crime. So, this is a blatant human rights violation. They should be released immediately.”<br /> <br /> In May 2020, police arrested 53 people, most of them LGBT, at a gathering hosted by an HIV organization in a hotel in Bafoussam and charged them with “homosexuality” related offenses. At least 6, including 3 teenagers ages 15 to 17, were subjected to forced anal examinations and HIV tests.<br /> <br /> The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees the right to equal protection before the law and nondiscrimination. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body charged with monitoring states parties’ compliance with the African Charter, has said that equal protection extends to sexual orientation. It has also stated that the principle of nondiscrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation, is the foundation for the enjoyment of all human rights. The commission has called for African governments to end all forms of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to bring the abusers to justice.<br /> <br /> The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cameroon is a state party, provides for equal protection, nondiscrimination, and the right to privacy. On this basis, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct between adults violates the ICCPR.<br /> <br /> Forced anal exams constitute a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can, in some cases, rise to the level of torture. In November 2013, Dr. Guy Sandjon, president of the National Medical Council of Cameroon, told Human Rights Watch that Cameroonian doctors should not conduct the exams, as they violate medical ethics, and that the authorities should not order them. Involuntary HIV and sexually transmitted infection tests constitute a violation of the right to bodily integrity and privacy, protected under the ICCPR, and the right to health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.<br /> <br /> “The Cameroonian government has an obligation to uphold the rights of everyone in Cameroon, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” Ghoshal said. “The authorities should immediately end arbitrary arrests on the basis of sexual identity and forced anal examinations and should take swift steps to repeal the law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations.”<br /> <br /> For more details about the recent human rights abuses against LGBT people and recommendations for Cameroonian authorities, please see below.<br /> <br /> Bafoussam, West Region, May 2020 <br /> On May 16, 2020, police arrested 53 people, the majority of whom were LGBT, including at least 6 teenagers ages 15 to 17, in a hotel in Bafoussam during a gathering organized by the HIV association, Colibri. They were charged with “homosexuality,” pimping, and complicity in pimping, and were held at the judicial police station. Ten were released on May 17, and the rest on May 21.<br /> <br /> Two of those arrested and the lawyer who represented them said that the police beat, humiliated, and threatened many of those arrested, held all of them in a tiny cell, and deprived some of the HIV treatment they needed. One of the men arrested said:</p> <p>They [police officers] stormed the hotel; they took everyone by force. They forced some of us to undress. They beat a trans woman in front of me, they slapped her twice in the face and ordered her to take off her clothes in front of everyone. They also seized medicine, including antiretrovirals, thermometers, and HIV tests. Then they brought us to the police station and threw us in a very small cell where we could barely breathe. Men, women, children, everyone in the same cell. Police also deprived those who were HIV positive of their life-saving treatment and refused to let any medicine into the cell. It was tough. One year on, they are yet to give us back what they took, like medicine and HIV kits. Also, I am yet to recover from the trauma this incident has caused me.</p> <p>One of those arrested, a transgender woman, said that on May 18, police forced her to undergo an HIV test and anal examination at the regional hospital in Bafoussam without her consent. She said 5 other LGBT people, including 3 of the teenagers, experienced the same treatment. She said:</p> <p>The doctor did not want to do the exams because he said he needed my consent, but the police officer insisted and said they needed the exams to provide proof of our sexual orientation for the prosecution. So, the doctor went ahead. I had to bend. I was afraid. I was in shock. I could not believe that a medical professional, who is supposed to be bound by the highest ethical standards, would do this to me. It is such an intrusive, invasive practice.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch reviewed medical records indicating that the anal examinations and HIV tests were carried out by a doctor at the orders of the regional commissioner of the judicial police. The records confirm that the six people were subjected to digital penetration, a form of sexual assault when conducted by force without consent.</p> <p><br /> Bertoua, East Region, February 2021</p> <p>On February 14, gendarmes arrested 12 youth, including a 17-year-old boy, in a restaurant in Bertoua on homosexuality-related charges. Human Rights Watch spoke to a 21-year-old woman, who was among those arrested, who said that gendarmes beat, threatened, and verbally assaulted her and the others at the gendarmerie station:</p> <p>They ordered us to lay on the ground on our stomachs with our legs bent. A gendarme would put a foot on your back so that you could not move, while another gendarme would hit you on the soles of your feet. That’s how I was beaten up. Everyone was beaten like that. Gendarmes wanted us to confess we were homosexuals. They insulted and threatened us. They said: “You are those destroying our country, we should kill you.”</p> <p>All of those arrested were released the same day without charge.<br /> <br /> A woman working for a local human rights group that provided legal and other assistance to those arrested told Human Rights Watch that some of the youth needed medical care upon their release because of the beatings.<br /> <br /> Douala, Littoral Region, February 2021<br /> Gendarmes arrested Njeuken Loic (known as “Shakiro”) and Mouthe Roland (known as “Patricia”), two transgender women, in Douala on February 8.<br /> <br /> They were charged with homosexuality-related offenses, lack of identity cards, and public indecency, and taken to a gendarmerie brigade in Nkoulouloun neighborhood, where they spent the night. The next day, a court ordered them to be placed in pretrial detention. They were transferred the following day to the New Bell prison in Douala, where they remain. Their trial is ongoing before the Bonajo Court of First Instance in Douala.<br /> <br /> Two of their lawyers and three LGBT rights activists who visited them in prison said that gendarmes interrogated Shakiro and Patricia at the gendarmerie brigade without the presence of their lawyers, forced them to sign statements they were not allowed to read, beat them, and threatened them. A member of a Cameroonian LGBT organization based in Douala said:</p> <p>I visited Shakiro and Patricia several times in prison. They told me that they were beaten and threatened with death at the gendarmerie station. They said gendarmes twisted their hands behind their backs for almost 30 minutes and hit them with their boots, including on their backs. Gendarmes accused them of being homosexuals and called them “dirty faggots.”</p> <p>LGBT rights activists and lawyers also said that detainees and prison guards at New Bell prison beat, threatened, and verbally assaulted Shakiro and Patricia repeatedly. An LGBT activist who visited them in prison said:</p> <p>Their detention conditions are extremely poor. They are constantly insulted by prison guards and other inmates because of their sexual orientation. They were chained up upon arrival at New Bell prison and beaten by prison guards. They are being held with many men in small cells. Shakiro is in a cell with about 70 men, while Patricia in another cell with about 50 men. Holding them with men is problematic, they would prefer to stay with women. They told me inmates always verbally assault them, saying horrible things like they are not supposed to exist.</p> <p>On March 24, the Bonajo Court of First Instance in Douala denied their bail application, claiming that section 301 of the Cameroonian criminal procedure code, on which Shakiro and Patricia’s lawyers have based their defense, is not applicable. Section 301 states that, “Where a case is not ready for hearing, the court shall adjourn it to its very next sitting and may order the release of the accused on bail, with or without sureties.”<br /> <br /> The next hearing in their case is scheduled for April 26.<br /> <br /> Recommendations<br /> Human Rights Watch urges Cameroon’s authorities to take the following steps:</p> <p>· The delegate general for national security and the secretary of state for defense in charge of the gendarmerie should issue written orders to all police and gendarmes to immediately stop arbitrarily arresting people based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, or alleged consensual same-sex conduct.</p> <p>· The judiciary should immediately release and dismiss charges against Shakiro and Patricia and others charged on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, or alleged consensual same-sex conduct.</p> <p>· Parliament should initiate a repeal of article 347 bis of the Cameroonian Penal code, which punishes consensual same-sex sexual relations with up to five years in prison.</p> <p>· The justice minister should make absolutely clear, in particular to all law enforcement, prosecuting and judicial authorities, that Cameroonian law does not make it a crime or offense to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, or to dress in a way that is perceived as gender nonconforming, and that any official purporting to exercise authority to detain, charge, or prosecute an LGBT person on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender nonconformity, or threatening to do so, is acting without a lawful basis and shall be held to account for abuse of power.</p> <p>· The National Human Rights Commission should investigate allegations of ill-treatment of detainees on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.</p> <p> </p> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Chechen Asylum Seeker Deported to Russia Arbitrarily Detained <p>Magomed Gadaev, 37, an asylum seeker from Chechnya and key witness in a high-profile torture case against Chechnya’s leadership, was abducted by Chechen security officials on April 11, two days after his deportation from France to Russia.</p> Click to expand Image Magomed Gadaev pictured in Paris, France.  © Private <p>France expelled Gadaev on April 9, despite a ruling by the national asylum court recognizing that he could come to harm if deported to Russia and asking the authorities to ensure he not be sent back.</p> <p>Border guards at the Moscow airport held Gadaev for 12 hours before allowing him to board a flight to Novy Urengoi, where his relatives live. Soon after the flight landed, two Chechens apparently linked to Chechnya’s authorities appeared at his relatives’ doorstep demanding to see Gadaev.</p> <p>Gadaev and his lawyer went to the police to report the threats and surveillance they had noticed, and returned to the apartment they were staying at accompanied by police officers who were supposedly designated to ensure their safety.</p> <p>The next day, the police asked Gadaev and his lawyer to meet with an investigator. When they left the apartment, Chechens in plain clothes forced Gadaev into a car, as the local officers stood by. One of the men pushed Gadaev’s lawyer away and said they were taking Gadaev, and the local police could answer any questions. At the station, police told the lawyer they did not know what happened.</p> <p>On April 12, the lawyer travelled to Grozny, where law enforcement authorities claimed they weren’t aware of the case. But, on the morning of April 13 according to Gadaev’s relatives, Chechen security officials brought Gadaev to his parents’ home to briefly speak with his mother. They didn’t explain why they were holding him and quickly led him away. Before his detention, Gadaev had told his family and lawyer that if Chechen authorities detained him and then present any written confession, it would have been the result of torture. Gadaev’s lawyer finally learned he was held at the Urus-Martan police department, but police there didn’t let him in.</p> <p>Torture in Chechnya is widespread. If any harm comes to Gadaev, police in Novy Urengoi will be complicit and so will French authorities. The French Interior Ministry’s decision to expel Gadaev put him at immediate risk of torture and his life in jeopardy violating France's international obligations prohibiting the return of any person to a country where they are at risk of torture.</p> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 14:22:21 -0400 Human Rights Watch Bring Ukrainian Women, Children Home from Syria Click to expand Image Мальчик запускает самодельного змея в спецзоне для иностранцев лагеря Аль-Холь на северо-востоке Сирии 15 марта 2021 г. © 2021 Sam Tarling <p>(Berlin) – Regional authorities in northeast Syria are unlawfully detaining an estimated 40 Ukrainian women and children in inhuman and degrading conditions in camps, Human Rights Watch said today. They are among nearly 43,000 foreigners linked to the extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) who are being held by Syrian regional authorities.<br /> <br /> The majority of the 40 are children, some as young as two.<br /> <br /> In a March 25, 2021 letter, Human Rights Watch urged Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to take prompt action to assist and repatriate the Ukrainian women and children. Human Rights Watch also sent a letter to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky with the same request.<br /> <br /> “Ukrainian women and children are being held in horrific and appalling conditions while their government chooses to look the other way,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Ukrainian government should comply with the regional authorities’ repeated calls for countries to bring home their nationals, prioritizing the most vulnerable.”<br /> <br /> None of the 40 has been taken before a court or investigated or prosecuted for any crime, and their indefinite and arbitrary detention by the armed forces of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria violates international law.<br /> <br /> A recent Human Rights Watch report found that the conditions in these camps are often inhumane and life-threatening, with growing insecurity and shortages of vital aid. Covid-19 presents another threat to the lives of these detainees, with the United Nations reporting at least 8,537 cases of the virus in northeast Syria as of February 2021.<br /> <br /> According to Children in Syria and Iraq, a Ukrainian independent group of investigative journalists and activists that monitors this issue, as of April, there are 8 Ukrainian women and 19 children held in al-Hol camp and 2 Ukrainian women and 11 children in Roj camp. The activists said that all detainees are held in intolerable conditions. Three of the detained women and one child have disabilities, one woman has an acute kidney disease, one child and one woman have shrapnel injuries, and one child has a severe gum infection. The activists also said that detainees live in constant fear and are terrified for their health and safety.<br /> <br /> The Ukrainian government has repatriated only nine Ukrainian citizens, two women and seven children, from northeast Syria. The government should work with local authorities to repatriate the remaining Ukrainian nationals. Children who are in the camps with their mothers should be repatriated together, in keeping with the children’s right to family unity, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> Upon transfer, home or abroad, detainees can be provided with rehabilitation and reintegration services and, as warranted, investigated and prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said. Children who lived under ISIS and any women trafficked by ISIS should be treated first and foremost as victims. International standards require authorities to seek alternatives to prosecuting children and prohibit the detention of children except as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.<br /> <br /> The Ukrainian government should also immediately increase consular assistance to its citizens and humanitarian aid to the camps and prisons in northeast Syria to complement – not replace – repatriations, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> Ukraine is one of at least 58 countries, including France, Germany, and Russia, with citizens being held as ISIS suspects and family members in northeast Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Turkey. Many countries cite the potential security risks posed by repatriations as a reason for not bringing their nationals home. Yet failing to protect these detainees poses a potentially larger risk, Human Rights Watch said.<br /> <br /> “Detaining people in such inhuman and degrading conditions is clearly prohibited under international law,” Gorbunova said. “Ukraine, like all countries whose nationals are being held as ISIS suspects, has a responsibility to protect its citizens and uphold their rights.”</p> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 10:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Closing Camps Won’t Solve Kenya’s Refugee Problem Click to expand Image An aerial picture shows a section of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border, May 8, 2015. © 2015 Reuters <p>The Kenyan government has again issued an ultimatum to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide a plan and timeline for closing the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Though the government has issued these demands before, its new ultimatum has caused anxiety for more than 400,000 Somali, South Sudanese, Congolese, and other refugees, many of whom have never known life outside these camps.</p> <p>When the Kenyan government announced the closure of Dadaab in 2016, it put heightened pressure on Somali refugees to sign up for cash-incentive “voluntary repatriation” by threatening to dump them back empty-handed in Somalia if they missed the deadline.</p> <p>As journalist Ty McCormick recounts in the newly published Beyond the Sand and Sea: One Family’s Quest for a Country to Call Home, life in the Kenyan refugee camps can feel like a hopeless trap with restrictions on free movement, food rationing, and limited educational opportunities. While the book focuses on one man who escaped Dadaab with a Princeton University scholarship, it makes clear that most people in the camps are “permanent exiles facing a lifetime in waiting.”</p> <p>But sending refugees to a “home” many have never seen is no solution when conditions there have not improved. As journalist Moulid Hujali, himself a Somali refugee raised in Dadaab, said in a recent podcast, some of those who have signed up for voluntary repatriation because of pressures and conditions in Dadaab have ended up in camps for the internally displaced within Somalia with fewer resources and where the security situation is more dangerous.</p> <p>On April 8, Kenya’s high court ordered a temporary stay of the government’s ultimatum, which buys the UNHCR about a month to respond. But in the midst of a political crisis, conditions in Somalia will look no better one month down the road.</p> <p>UNHCR has no quick fix to offer consistent with its protection mandate. Of course, many refugees would like to go home, indeed anywhere but these remote camps, but declaring the problem solved and threatening to truck people to the border is not a solution; it’s a recipe for further dislocation and suffering.</p> <p>Until the situation in Somalia stabilizes, Kenya needs to maintain asylum and consider allowing refugees at long last to integrate. They could start by opening up, not closing, the camps and allowing those forced to live there freedom to move. Meanwhile, donor governments need to provide financial support and resettlement opportunities that can keep a glimmer of hope alive for those living in the camps.</p> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch North Korea’s Leader Warns of Famine Click to expand Image North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a closing speech at the Sixth Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 8, 2021.  © 2021 Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP <p>Speaking at a ruling Workers’ Party of Korea conference on Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was surprisingly candid about the country’s dire economic situation, calling on the country to “wage another more difficult ‘Arduous March’” – a propaganda term used in the 1990s during the country’s infamous famine.<br /> <br /> Back then, the government refused to import food and stood by failed food distribution programs, all the while outlawing the very use of the term “famine” – hence the use of the term “Arduous March.” Kim appears to be saying the country should prepare for the very worst.<br /> <br /> The famine killed a still-unknown number of people, with estimates ranging from between several hundred thousand to over two million. For people who lived through it, Kim’s words raise horrific memories of North Korea’s most difficult period since the Korean War.<br /> <br /> “Everybody was so hungry, eating any wild greens, grass, and tree bark,” recalled a former party member in her 50s, whose parents died during the famine. “It was horrible. You would see dead bodies everywhere, in the streets, especially near the train stations. Dirty, pitch black, and skinny children that barely survived stealing food, most of whom also died. People who died weakened in their apartments were not found for days or weeks.”<br /> <br /> Kim’s warning may be yet another attempt to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to further tighten his grip on power. The 1990s famine not only killed multitudes but also undermined the government’s repressive rule, as survivors learned to evade food supply programs and set up their own illicit markets. Kim may be using the pandemic to take the country back to when there was an entirely closed border and very few imports. This allowed the government to completely control the distribution of food and supplies while also prohibiting the population from accessing any information not sanctioned by the government from inside or outside the country.<br /> <br /> That is more than arduous. It is terrifying.</p> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 12:21:58 -0400 Human Rights Watch Victims of Sudan Crackdown on Protests Await Justice Click to expand Image Sudanese celebrate after officials said the military had forced longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years in power in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 11, 2019. © 2019 AP Images <p>When Sudan’s long-standing president Omar al-Bashir was ousted on April 11, 2019, protesters who had placed their lives on the line hoped this would mark the beginning of a freer and more just Sudan. Two years on, amidst slow progress and complex challenges, protesters, lawyers, and families of victims are understandably concerned over whether justice will ever come for abuses against those protestors.</p> <p>The former regime responded ruthlessly to protests that began in December 2018 against al-Bashir’s regime, and security forces, notably Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS), used lethal force, including live ammunition, to break up the protests, killing dozens of unarmed protesters.</p> <p>After the transitional authorities were sworn in they established a range of committees to investigate past abuses. While there is no body to specifically address crimes committed against protesters between December 2018 and April 2019, the attorney-general established a committee in January 2020 to investigate a wide range of abuses including extrajudicial killings, from the beginning of al-Bashir’s rule through to his ousting.</p> <p>This year has seen some progress on such cases. Prosecutors announced an unknown number of NISS agents have been charged in connection with abuses against protesters. On March 28, a Khartoum court found the crimes committed against peaceful protesters were part of an attack against the civilian population and confirmed for the first time charges of crimes against humanity against another NISS agent for the killing of a protester in December, 2018.</p> <p>But many challenges remain, some of which will require resources, others mainly political will.</p> <p>Mahmoud al-Sheikh, a member of the attorney-general’s committee pointed to several challenges undermining their efforts: “We are struggling to get the security forces to cooperate including by providing us with access to crucial evidence or accept requests of lifting immunities of suspects.” Sudan’s criminal law does not recognize command responsibility as a mode of liability, which could hinder the possibility of holding mid-to-top level commanders accountable.</p> <p>While the justice efforts required in Sudan are ambitious and long-term, this does not mean the government, with international support, cannot take effective, prompt actions to bolster current efforts.  A meaningful justice process should be transparent, and the government should provide regular public updates on the progress in investigations of public interest and guarantee victims and their families effective participation.</p> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 11:12:11 -0400 Human Rights Watch Brazil: Remove Miners from Indigenous Amazon Territory Click to expand Image Building that houses the Munduruku Wakoborun Women’s Association in the Jacareacanga municipality, state of Pará, damaged on March, 25, 2021. © Archive MPF/PA. <p>(São Paulo, April 12, 2021) – Brazilian federal authorities should immediately remove miners who have unlawfully entered the Munduruku Indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest, Human Rights Watch said today.<br /> <br /> Munduruku Indigenous people in the Tapajós basin – an epicenter of illegal gold mining in the Amazon rainforest – in southwestern Pará state have reported increasing encroachments upon their lands by armed “wildcat” miners known as “garimpeiros” since March 14, 2021. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has warned of a potential for violence between local residents and the miners and urged the deployment of the federal police and other authorities to remove the trespassers. But the government has yet to act. The tension has escalated in recent weeks after a group of miners brought equipment to the area.<br /> <br /> “Indigenous people in the Munduruku territory are facing land invasions, environmental destruction, and serious threats by criminal groups involved in illegal mining,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless the government takes decisive action to enforce the law and expel the invaders, the situation will only get more dangerous.”<br /> <br /> Illegal mining causes significant deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and has been linked to dangerous levels of mercury poisoning, from mercury widely used to process the gold, in several Munduruku communities along the Tapajós basin. Indigenous people also fear that miners could spread the Covid-19 virus in their communities.<br /> <br /> In a public statement on March 16, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office reported that a helicopter appeared to have escorted the miners and their equipment, suggesting the invasion is “an orchestrated action” by an organized crime group. The office also reported that the miners may be coordinating the invasion with a “small group” of Indigenous people who support the mining.<br /> <br /> Members of Munduruku communities who oppose the mining and have reported the invasions to the authorities say they have faced threats and intimidation. On March 19, armed men reportedly prevented a group of Munduruku Indigenous people from disembarking from their boats in an area within their territory. On March 25, in the Jacareacanga municipality, miners and their supporters forced their way into a building that houses the Wakoborun Women’s Association and other community organizations that have opposed the mining. The attackers destroyed furniture and equipment and set fire to documents, Indigenous leaders reported.</p> Click to expand Image Building that houses the Munduruku Wakoborun Women’s Association in the Jacareacanga municipality, state of Pará, damaged on March, 25, 2021. © Archive MPF/PA <p><br /> The Munduruku Indigenous Territory has long suffered from encroachments by miners, but the situation has “clearly worsened” under the Bolsonaro administration and reflected a broader upsurge in illegal mining in the region, a federal prosecutor told Human Rights Watch.<br /> <br /> Illegal mining activities and the associated deforestation have also threatened the health and food sources of the peoples in the Tapajós River basin. A recent study by Fiocruz, a research institution affiliated to Brazil’s Health Ministry, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that mercury, a toxic substance, has contaminated river fish that Munduruku communities in the Sawré Muybu territory rely on for their livelihoods. In three of its villages, 58 percent of residents tested for the study had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. Mercury poisoning can cause lifelong brain damage and other serious, irreversible health conditions.</p> <p>Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation of the failure of federal authorities to curb illegal mining activities in Munduruku territories in southwestern Pará. In 2017, federal prosecutors said that Brazil’s environmental agencies – the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) – should conduct periodic enforcement operations against illegal mining in the region, and petitioned the federal court in 2018 to require enforcement action.<br /> <br /> These measures produced just a single large operation by the environmental agencies over the course of two years, in May 2018, a federal prosecutor told Human Rights Watch.<br /> <br /> In June 2020, federal prosecutors again said that federal agencies should curb mining within Munduruku lands and urged the Federal Police to act to remove the trespassers. Two months later, IBAMA began an operation in the Munduruku and Sai Cinza territories, but the Defense Ministry halted the operation to “reevaluate” it after Environment Minister Ricardo Salles met with an Indigenous group favoring mining activities. The next day, the Defense Ministry also barred aircraft used by IBAMA from taking off from a military airbase in Pará. The operation was never resumed.<br /> <br /> In December 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Brazil to protect the right to health, life, and personal integrity of the Munduruku Indigenous people. The commission expressed concern that illegal miners and other trespassers could spread Covid-19 in communities lacking sufficient access to health services. In response, the Bolsonaro administration claimed it was protecting the communities and said the Ministry of Justice and Public Security was developing plans to remove trespassers from Indigenous lands.<br /> <br /> “There may be plans in the works, but that shouldn’t stop them from acting now to contain the scenario of imminent violence that we are seeing,” the federal prosecutor told Human Rights Watch.<br /> <br /> The Bolsonaro administration has weakened the agencies tasked with protecting the environment, effectively emboldening criminal networks involved in illegal logging and mining, among others, in the Amazon.<br /> <br /> The suspension of the 2020 operation was indicative of a breakdown in broader cooperation between federal prosecutors and environmental agencies since President Bolsonaro took office. “We used to dialogue directly with federal agencies, but there is no longer a good environment for such interaction with IBAMA’s new agenda,” the federal prosecutor said.<br /> <br /> In the absence of adequate law enforcement, Munduruku Indigenous people are left to patrol and protect their lands by themselves and report invasions to authorities, at great personal risk.<br /> <br /> “We demand that federal bodies comply with their constitutional duties immediately,” the Munduruku Ipereg Ayu Movement, a group of Munduruku forest defenders, said on March 21. “If something happens to our people, we blame the Brazilian state, which does not act even after several reports of invasions and destruction of the territory in the middle of a pandemic.”<br /> <br /> Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in Indigenous lands throughout the Amazon is higher than at any time over the past decade, according to official data, and invasions increased by 135 percent in his first year, the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) reported. Other Indigenous communities in the Amazon struggling with incursions by miners include the Yanomami and Ye’kwana in Roraima state.<br /> <br /> President Bolsonaro has signaled his aversion to protecting Indigenous lands. As a candidate, he vowed not to designate “one more centimeter” of land as Indigenous territory. His administration has halted the demarcation of Indigenous territories – there are 237 pending requests – leaving Indigenous communities even more vulnerable to encroachments, deforestation, and violence. The Munduruku territory is already demarcated.<br /> <br /> In 2020, Bolsonaro introduced a draft bill in Congress to allow mining and other commercial activities in Indigenous territories. The bill is pending in Congress and is listed as one of Bolsonaro’s priorities.<br /> <br /> “Previous administrations have also failed to protect the Munduruku territory from illegal mining,” Canineu said. “The difference now is that the federal government is run by an administration that has actively undermined environmental enforcement and the protection of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples’ lands.”</p> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 08:30:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch US: Congress Advances Slavery Reparations Bill Click to expand Image A sculpture of African slaves by Ghanaian artist, Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, at the beginning of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. © Dreisen Heath/Human Rights Watch <p>(Washington, DC) – The US Congress will take a historic step on April 14, 2021 when a congressional committee is to vote on a slavery reparations bill, Human Rights Watch said today. The House Judiciary Committee announced on April 9 its upcoming vote on H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. <br /> <br /> H.R. 40 would establish a federal commission to study the legacy of slavery in the United States and its ongoing harm and develop proposals for redress and repair, including reparations. The bill has been introduced at every congressional session since 1989 but has never before reached a committee vote, normally the first step toward passing legislation. The vote comes amid an acceleration in the reparations movement’s success at the state and local levels.<br /> <br /> “The centuries-long injustices of slavery and its legacy, fueling the persistence of racial inequality today, remain largely unaccounted for,” said Dreisen Heath, racial justice researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “As states, cities, and other institutions pursue reckonings, Congress should step up to lead the nation in accounting and atoning for the ongoing impact of slavery. The committee vote on H.R. 40 is a crucial step in that direction.”<br /> <br /> In March, the City Council of Evanston, Illinois approved the country’s first reparations program for Black people, and in 2020 California established its own H.R. 40-style commission at the state level to study and recommend reparations for Black Californians. Reparations efforts have also made progress recently in cities such as Providence, Rhode Island; Asheville, North Carolina; Burlington, Vermont; and Amherst, Massachusetts, with bills and grassroots initiatives being considered in many other communities. Religious and other institutions, as well as businesses, have also begun to acknowledge their roles in slavery and to address its continuing harm.   <br /> <br /> The Judiciary Committee vote will be the first time that lawmakers cast a ballot to decide whether to bring H.R. 40 to the full House for consideration. In February, a House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on the reparations bill. Human Rights Watch’s Heath testified, imploring Congress to address systemic racism by passing H.R. 40, rather than perpetuating it by continuing to let the bill languish.<br /> <br /> The late Congressman John Conyers first introduced H.R. 40 more than 30 years ago on the heels of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations, including cash payments, to Japanese Americans who were incarcerated and forcibly relocated during World War II. However, H.R. 40 did not gain significant momentum until 2019, when the House held its second congressional hearing on the bill. Then, in 2020,  the bill gained unprecedented support as the Covid-19 coronavirus took a disproportionate toll on communities of color and millions of people took to the streets following the police killing of George Floyd to demand an end to structural racism.  <br /> <br /> Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who took over as the bill’s lead sponsor after Conyers’ death in 2019, mobilized support among legislators, an effort backed by a coalition of over 300 groups including the National African American Reparations Commission, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Color of Change, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Japanese American internment camp survivors, including former US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and the actor George Takei, voiced their support. The Amalgamated Bank, the US Conference of Mayors, the Players Coalition, and Ben &amp; Jerry’s Ice Cream, among others, have also expressed support.<br /> <br /> President Joe Biden recently expressed support for a study of reparations for slavery, which was also a 2020 campaign promise.<br /> <br /> As Human Rights Watch said in its testimony to Congress in February, passing H.R. 40 is essential because the full impact of creating laws and policies that forced hundreds of thousands of Africans to be enslaved in the United States, a gross human rights violation, has never been fully examined, accounted for, or assessed at the national level. Following emancipation, many US cities and states raced to enforce white supremacy and racial segregation, passing repressive laws to limit Black people’s rights.<br /> <br /> Organized racial terror by the Ku Klux Klan, white paramilitary groups, and deputized white mobs that the authorities often have not done enough to prevent or account for, helped to maintain racial social order and to corrode Black people’s progress toward equality. Jim Crow laws passed by local and state governments in the 19th and 20th centuries entrenched racial discrimination. Federal, state, and local policy decisions in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as redlining, urban renewal, and highway construction, further contributed to structural racism. And these policies helped create present day economic, education, employment, and health inequalities, as well as housing segregation and everyday abusive policing practices in Black and brown communities.<br /> <br /> To date, 175 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 40, many more than in previous years. Its Senate companion, S. 40, the first reparations bill to be introduced in the Senate since Reconstruction, has 19 co-sponsors.<br /> <br /> “The Judiciary Committee should seize this moment and vote to move H.R. 40 to the House floor for full consideration,” Heath said. “Racial justice and racial healing can only be achieved if the US finally reckons with its racist past and present and takes steps to provide genuine, meaningful repair.”</p> Fri, 09 Apr 2021 12:24:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch Another Woman Killed in Scourge of Kyrgyzstan ‘Bride Kidnappings’ Click to expand Image People attend a rally for the protection of women's rights in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, protesting the kidnapping and killing of Aizada Kanatbekova, April 8, 2021. The banner reads, "The Authorities are Responsible for Femicide." © 2021 Sputnik, Svetlana Fedotova <p>On April 5, several men abducted 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova in broad daylight in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. One of them had allegedly been stalking her for months. Two days later, a farmer found Kanatbekova’s body in a car outside Bishkek. Police confirmed she was strangled to death. They said the body of one of her abductors was also in the car, displaying stab wounds that were self-inflicted.</p> <p>I can’t stop thinking how it could have been me or any young Kyrgyz woman walking down the street that morning.</p> <p>Kidnapping women for marriage is a crime in Kyrgyzstan, but men abduct women regularly and with impunity. Kanatbekova’s mother said police had laughed off her plea for help after the abduction and told her she’d soon be dancing at her daughter’s wedding. It’s a stark example of the disregard police exhibit when it comes to reports of bride kidnapping.</p> <p>Their inaction is particularly shocking in Kanatbekova’s case because a witness alerted police immediately after the abduction. Street cameras installed as part of Bishkek’s “Safe City” project captured the license plates of both cars.</p> <p>At an April 8 press conference, the Bishkek police chief insisted police searched for Kanatbekova nonstop, but her family and friends told the media that local police offices outside Bishkek were not aware of the search.</p> <p>The case is similar to that of Burulai Turdaly kyzy, a young woman who was murdered by her two-time kidnapper in May 2018, after officers left them alone together in a room at the police station. There is a prevailing belief in Kyrgyz society that bride kidnapping, forced marriages, and other forms of domestic violence are a family affair and outsiders, even police, should not meddle, even though they are criminal offenses.</p> <p>People in Bishkek and Osh, shocked and angry at yet another woman’s murder, protested outside police headquarters in each city. Several members of parliament have also called for tougher punishment for bride kidnapping.</p> <p>But tougher punishment won’t help if law enforcement inaction persists. Kyrgyz officials should treat abduction of women for marriage for what it is – a crime. They should enforce existing laws and hold perpetrators accountable. They should also conduct an internal investigation into the flawed response to the abduction that ultimately led to Kanatbekova’s murder and punish the officers responsible. Otherwise, women and girls, like Burulai and Aizada, will continue to die, as police laugh on.</p> <p>This text has been modified to correct the spelling of Aizada Kanatbekova’s name.</p> Fri, 09 Apr 2021 11:12:41 -0400 Human Rights Watch US: End Misguided Public Health Border Expulsions Click to expand Image An asylum seeking family from Guatemala stands on the Paso del Norte international bridge. After border agents turned the family away at the port of entry, the family swam across the Rio Grande. © 2021 David Peinado/NurPhoto via AP <p>(Washington, DC) – The United States government’s summary expulsion of irregular border crossers without regard to their asylum claims or need for protection on ostensible public health grounds puts lives at risk and violates US obligations under international law, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a “question and answer” analysis. The administration of President Joe Biden should immediately stop returning asylum seekers to harm and rescind the March 2020 order invoked to authorize the expulsions.<br /> <br /> The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the order under pressure from the administration of former President Donald Trump. The order, which is based on the misapplication of Title 42 of US law – an obscure 1944 public health law not intended for immigration enforcement purposes – has been wrongfully used to give US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unchecked authority to summarily expel migrants, including asylum seekers, arriving at US land borders.<br /> <br /> “President Biden promised during his campaign to restore the right to seek asylum, but close to 100 days into his administration, Trump’s border expulsion policy remains in place,” said Ariana Sawyer, US border researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Biden administration should immediately stop returning asylum seekers to harm, and instead build a humane border regime that protects public health and respects rights.”<br /> <br /> CBP agents have so far performed more than 642,700 expulsions under the CDC order, which uses public health as a pretext for dismissing human rights obligations. Under the order, agents have been denying asylum seekers access to nonrefoulement screenings required under US and international law to ensure they are not returned to persecution or torture.<br /> <br /> The expulsion policy is only being applied at the border, and other travelers do not face the same restrictions.<br /> <br /> At least 13,000 unaccompanied children were expelled during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has since made an exception in processing unaccompanied children but has continued expelling children traveling with family members.<br /> <br /> The expulsions of Haitian asylum seekers are particularly concerning. Leaked DHS documents show the agency knew that Haitian asylum seekers would likely face harm if expelled to Haiti, a country the agency identified as suffering from political instability, kidnapping, and violence. Nevertheless, DHS has expelled hundreds of Haitians, including young children and babies, both to Haiti and Mexico.<br /> <br /> Human Rights Watch interviews with people summarily expelled and the observations of other groups strongly suggest that the people subjected to summary expulsions are largely Black, brown, and Indigenous people. With no meaningful review or oversight of individual CBP officers’ discretionary decisions, existing structural inequalities in immigration law and access to protection are likely to be even more pronounced.<br /> <br /> Migrants are either expelled to their country of origin or dangerous Mexican border cities, where they are routinely targeted by criminal organizations for extortion, rape, assault, and other violence, and where they often lack resources. Haitians are especially easy to identify as non-Mexicans, making them particularly vulnerable to such targeting. And the language differences for Haitians and other non-Spanish-speaking migrants create barriers to finding transportation, housing, case management, and daily necessities.<br /> <br /> Migrant shelters in El Paso performing humanitarian reception were misled by DHS under the Biden administration. They said they were told to expect more families to be released into their care. The shelters had prepared for and were ready to receive those families, offering medical checks, help with travel, and quarantine as needed. It was a surprise when the asylum seekers were expelled to Mexico instead.<br /> <br /> “They told us we were going to El Paso, [Texas],” said one asylum-seeking father who was unexpectedly expelled to Ciudad Juárez along with dozens of other families after spending days in CBP custody. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. They said, ‘Come on, follow us. Cross this bridge.’ We ended up in Mexico. They tricked us into coming here.” The father said he could not return to his home in Honduras because of threats against his life by gang members.<br /> <br /> Biden has since announced he is looking to ramp up expulsions of families. The administration should invest in existing organizations and shelters already successfully performing reception at the border instead.<br /> <br /> The expulsion policy has also resulted in family separation. Children traveling with adult relatives other than their parents are also being separated by border agents who are then expelling the adults and classifying the minors as unaccompanied.<br /> <br /> The right to seek asylum applies even in times of emergency. The United States should respond to people who arrive at the border in a fair, efficient, and rights-respecting manner that also protects public health, Human Rights Watch said. It should end summary expulsion and return and develop a humanitarian reception system. The US government should also implement public health procedures to limit the spread of Covid-19, provide sufficient resources and structural reforms to process asylum claims fairly and efficiently, and act quickly to address border agency impunity.<br /> <br /> “There is no public health justification for singling out asylum seekers and migrants at the border and subjecting them to harsher restrictions than other travelers,” Sawyer said. “By continuing these expulsions, the Biden administration is violating the rights of asylum seekers and should change course immediately.”<br /> <br />  </p> Thu, 08 Apr 2021 16:15:00 -0400 Human Rights Watch UN Chief Should Support Remote Investigation in Xinjiang Click to expand Image A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, western China's Xinjiang region, December 3, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File <p>United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is hoping the Chinese government will grant UN experts unrestricted access to detention centers in Xinjiang where over a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have faced torture and myriad other human rights abuses. But he should make clear to Beijing that an investigation can take place with or without access.</p> <p>In a recent interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC, Guterres urged Beijing to give the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, and other UN experts “unlimited access” to Xinjiang, which Bachelet had first requested over two years ago.</p> <p>In the face of Beijing’s foot-dragging, Guterres should go a step further and endorse Bachelet’s team conducting a remote investigation that publicly reports its findings.</p> <p>As shown by UN inquiries into abuses in North Korea and Myanmar, an investigation in Xinjiang can be comprehensive and credible even without the Chinese government’s cooperation. There is ample evidence of the impact of Beijing’s repressive policies in the public domain, including internal Chinese government documents and satellite imagery published by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and news outlets.</p> <p>Guterres, who is seeking a second term as secretary-general, has not yet called on China to end its abuses in Xinjiang, as have 50 UN experts and dozens of UN member countries. But he recognizes the value of speaking out publicly. As he said in another interview, “Our power in the UN is the power of persuasion, is the power of speaking up, is the power of denouncing what needs to be denounced.”</p> <p>Guterres has been getting it right in Myanmar, where over the past two months he has repeatedly condemned the Myanmar security forces’ atrocities against demonstrators protesting the military’s February 1 coup. And the junta is facing mounting pressure, partly due to Guterres, his special envoy, the UN special rapporteur, and other UN officials’ speaking out.</p> <p>It’s time to do the same with China.</p> Thu, 08 Apr 2021 08:41:40 -0400 Human Rights Watch Minimize Civilian Harm in Eastern Ukraine Conflict Click to expand Image Український солдат на спостережному посту у бліндажі біля прифронтового міста Красногорівка на сході України. 5 березня 2021 року © 2021 AP Photo/Євген Малолєтка <p>International attention to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine had faded in recent years. Recent reports of Russia massing troops near Ukraine’s border have brought it back into focus. Monitors reported a significant uptick in hostilities in recent weeks.</p> <p>A key issue of the renewed international focus on the conflict in eastern Ukraine should be how civilians will be protected if there is a further escalation in hostilities.</p> <p>Russia has been pursuing a proxy war in eastern Ukraine since it occupied Crimea in 2014, supporting armed groups in Donetsk and Luhansk regions financially and providing them with military support. According to the United Nations’ human rights office, at least 3,077 civilians have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since the war began. On April 2, a child died from blast trauma and fragmentation wounds in the village of Oleksandrivske, Donetsk region. Wounds from explosive weapons with large area effects can be especially difficult to treat in children.</p> <p>Eastern Ukraine remains a heavily mine-contaminated region. In 2020, the majority of civilian casualties resulted from mine incidents and the handling of explosive remnants of war.</p> <p>The laws of war governing fighting in eastern Ukraine require all parties to the conflict to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military targets and civilian objects, and to refrain from attacks that would cause disproportionate harm to the civilian population in relation to the military advantage gained. This means all parties should  take precautions to minimize harm to civilians, including by protecting civilians from the effects of landmines and explosive remnants of war, and by avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.</p> <p> </p> Thu, 08 Apr 2021 07:11:37 -0400 Human Rights Watch