Human Rights Watch News en Killing of Tyre Nichols Shows Structural Problems in US Policing Click to expand Image Relatives and community members hold candles at a vigil for Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, January 26, 2023. © 2023 AP Photo/Gerald Herbert <p>The United States is bracing for further details in yet another horrific police killing of a Black man, this time Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. The fatal beating reminds us of the fundamental changes to policing that are still needed and what is required to foster safety in the US, particularly in Black communities, whose members are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people.</p> <p>Tyre Nichols, 29, was the youngest of four children and the father of a preschool-age son. He died January 10, 2023 from wounds sustained after police brutally beat him during a traffic stop for alleged reckless driving. Five Memphis police officers and two fire department employees were fired after internal investigations of the incident, which the Memphis police chief described as “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.” The police officers were charged with second-degree murder and other charges. The US Justice Department has opened an investigation into the incident and the Memphis police department announced it will release video of the incident on Friday, January 27. Protests are expected after the video’s release, the right to which the state has a responsibility to protect.</p> <p>Some of the officers charged belonged to the police department’s Street Crime Operation to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) unit, which employs saturation or “flood the zone” policing, sending officers into perceived high-crime areas, who engage in aggressive, “zero tolerance,” and pretextual tactics with little oversight or apparent thought to the disruption they cause to communities. </p> <p>Despite the global uprising against police brutality and systemic racism in 2020, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, police killed 1,186 people in 2022 – more than any other year this past decade. While some police killings, especially those captured on video, get extensive media coverage, police across the US use force and engage in harmful and pervasive abuse, especially toward Black people, on a daily basis. Studies show that police use force on Black people at vastly higher rates than on white people, including electroshock weapons such as Tasers, dog bites, batons, and beatings. These are often misapplied in situations involving problematic substance use, homelessness, mental health conditions, and poverty.</p> <p>Nichols’ contact with police started off as a traffic stop, which Human Rights Watch and others have shown are disproportionately enforced against Black people. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, we found that traffic stops are not only more frequent in predominately Black and low-income areas but they also last longer and take place with a greater likelihood of removal from the vehicle, search, questioning, and arrest. Data shows police in the US have killed nearly 600 people in traffic stops since 2017.</p> <p>While authorities have taken action against the officers involved in Nichols’ case relatively quickly, this is unusual. Accountability for police abuse remains rare in the US, and the abuse and loss of life shouldn’t happen in the first place. Before there is another police killing, state and local governments in the US should question the use of police for traffic stops, and invest in other ways to advance community safety beyond policing.</p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:46:40 -0500 Human Rights Watch ICC Authorizes Resumed Philippines Investigation Click to expand Image Relatives of victims during President Rodrigo Duterte's “war on drugs” hold a memorial for their loved ones at a church in Manila, Philippines, March 17, 2019. © 2019 Bullit Marquez/AP Images <p>On Thursday, a panel of judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to resume its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines. The judges concluded that the Philippine government failed to substantiate its assertions that it was doing enough to investigate and prosecute killings that took place during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The government had previously requested the court’s prosecutor defer the investigation to domestic authorities.</p> <p>The ICC investigation covers alleged crimes committed from November 2011 to June 2016, when large numbers of extrajudicial killings occurred in Davao City while Duterte was mayor, and up to March 19, 2019, when the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC’s Rome Statute took effect during Duterte’s term as president. Although the Philippines is no longer a member of the ICC, under the Rome Statute the court retains its jurisdiction over crimes committed there prior to the country’s withdrawal.</p> <p>In their decision this week, the judges stated they were “not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the court’s investigations,” and that the Philippine government’s domestic initiatives “assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the court’s investigation.”</p> <p>The decision is a severe blow to the Philippine government’s repeated attempts to hamper the ICC’s efforts by claiming national authorities were investigating the killings and questioning the court’s jurisdiction. Throughout its 42-page decision, the judges refuted the government’s arguments and in some places pointed out what amounts to Manila’s tokenistic approach to supposedly investigate the killings.</p> <p>The ICC’s action is an important step toward accountability for the “drug war” killings in the Philippines, which continue to occur on a daily basis and where activists and journalists face threats, harassment, and even death for speaking out.</p> <p>President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should reverse his predecessor’s stance and actively cooperate with the ICC investigation. This would help demonstrate his government is sincere when it says  it values accountability and human rights. And it would bring “drug war” victims and their families closer to achieving a measure of justice.</p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 16:52:48 -0500 Human Rights Watch Zimbabwe: A Move to Curb Freedom of Association as Election Nears Click to expand Image Emmerson Mnangagwa, pictured at a ZANU PF congress in Harare on, October 28, 2022. (AP Photo/STR). © <p>(Johannesburg) – Zimbabwe should reregister hundreds of civil society groups whose registration it has withdrawn, and amend its Private Voluntary Organization Act to bring it in line with its obligations to protect freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also cancel an amendment that would bar groups from “political” activity under threat of criminal penalties.</p> <p>On January 22, 2023, Zimbabwean authorities announced they had revoked the registration of 291 nongovernmental and civil society organizations for “noncompliance with the provisions of Private Voluntary Organization Act.” Human Rights Watch had criticized the law as retrogressive when it was being drafted in 2004 and raised the alarm on its potential violations of the right to freedom of association.</p> <p>“Zimbabwe’s repression of civil society organizations needs to stop, especially in light of the general election this year,” said Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to stop using the Private Voluntary Organization Act as a tool to silence the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.”</p> <p>The Private Voluntary Organization Act is incompatible with international human rights law standards on freedom of association to which Zimbabwe is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.</p> <p>Paul Mavhima, the labor and social welfare minister, said that registration was withdrawn from some groups because they allegedly failed to submit audited accounts for money raised from donors, while in other cases the revocation was for national security reasons, or for allegedly straying from their mandate.</p> <p>Critics, however, have called the move a consolidation of authoritarian rule and a harbinger of worse things to come.</p> <p>“The law is now an instrument of repression for the civil society sector,” a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer told Human Rights Watch. “The right of existence and operation is under threat because the requirements of this law can easily be used to shut down organizations and apply criminal law against NGOs and civil society leaders. This deregistration seems to carry the message that you either comply with our regulations or you perish.”</p> <p>He noted that the restrictions can silence grassroots groups that provide guidance and leadership at the community level, leaving voters in the dark about important developments as the election nears.</p> <p>In November 2021, the government proposed an amendment to the Private Voluntary Organizations Act to further restrict the operations of nongovernmental organizations. The amendment would allow the government to cancel the registration of organizations deemed to be “political,” with criminal penalties for the groups’ leaders. The government said it is aimed at curbing terrorism financing and money laundering to comply with the recommendation of the country’s Financial Action Taskforce. The parliament and the senate have passed the bill, and it is awaiting presidential signature.</p> <p>There is no doubt that the adoption of the amendment will further threaten the already compromised right to freedom of association in the country, Human Rights Watch said. For this reason, the amendment should be withdrawn.</p> <p>A member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum told Human Rights Watch that the fact the amended law may come into effect before the general election means that groups that typically play an important role in the lead up to, during, and after, elections, will be shut out and prevented from doing so.</p> <p>“What it means is that we may not have NGO-sponsored election observers and election monitoring by civil society organizations,” the rights defender said. “This would definitely undermine the credibility of the election because independent organizations that observe and compile reports on the electoral processes would not be able to do so. For many of us, it is very clear that there are specific organizations that this NGO law targets, and these are organizations that work on human rights and governance issues.”</p> <p>President Emmerson Mnangagwa has on several occasions threatened to expel groups that do not follow his party’s mandate, and that in his view intervene in the country’s politics.</p> <p>The African Union and the Southern African Development Community should intervene, Human Rights Watch said. They should urge President Mnangagwa not to sign the amendment into law. They should also urge the government to reconcile the Private Voluntary Organization Act with AU and SADC standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, AU Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, and SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.</p> <p>“The credibility of the upcoming general election, and whether it guarantees Zimbabwe’s citizens the right to genuinely chose their representatives, will be closely linked to the ability of civil society to monitor and report on the election process,” Budoo-Scholtz said. “Groups, especially those working on governance issues and acting as observers during elections, need to know they can operate without any fear of deregistration or criminal penalties.”</p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 15:06:12 -0500 Human Rights Watch No Justice 5 Years After Afghanistan Taliban Bombing Click to expand Image Afghan security officials inspect the site of a Taliban suicide bombing, Kabul, Afghanistan. January 27, 2018. © 2018 Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/via Getty Images <p>Five years ago, I interviewed a young Afghan woman who miraculously survived the devastating Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul on January 27, 2018. It was a horrendous attack: the Taliban rigged an ambulance with explosives and detonated it in downtown Kabul, killing more than 100 people. She escaped serious injury only because she had stepped into a shop moments before. “I thought I had gone blind,” she told me. “There was blood running down my face into my eyes…. The street was full of bodies.”</p> <p>The Taliban claimed responsibility, one of many attacks in which they targeted civilians during their decades’ long insurgency.</p> <p>But the Taliban was not alone in committing atrocities that year. Their rivals – groups aligned with the Islamic State – carried out numerous attacks targeting schools and mosques, killing hundreds of civilians, largely in Shia and Hazara communities.</p> <p>And 2018 was one of the deadliest years for civilians during the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan. To combat the Taliban’s growing strength, the United States and Afghan governments dramatically increased airstrikes and adopted looser military rules of engagement, resulting in the deaths of over 500 civilians. In April that year, an Afghan government airstrike on a madrassa killed over 30 children and wounded 50 more. Officials apologized but held no one accountable.</p> <p>Afghan police and special forces also continued to carry out enforced disappearances and torture, including the sexual abuse of children, while failing to investigate or prosecute perpetrators. In 2018, reports also emerged of summary executions of civilians and other war crimes by Australian and US special forces in Afghanistan.</p> <p>Since taking power in August 2021, the Taliban have carried out summary executions and enforced disappearances, and have imposed policies that severely restrict the rights of women and girls. The Taliban have taken no steps to end these grave rights violations, let alone investigating or prosecuting those responsible.</p> <p>As the United States and other countries examine their own roles in the conflict, and as the International Criminal Court continues its investigation into alleged international crimes in Afghanistan, it is critical that justice be sought for all perpetrators of serious abuses. Directing efforts at only one party to the conflict, or ignoring the harm done to certain victims, ultimately denies justice to all.</p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 12:53:22 -0500 Human Rights Watch Deaths Underscore Inhumanity of Canada’s Immigration Detention Click to expand Image A protestor holds a sign outside a provincial jail in Toronto during a rally against immigration detention, 2022. © 2022 Samer Muscati/HRW <p>On January 28, 2022, Bryan Arthur Stone, a 56-year-old father, died by suicide at the Laval Quebec immigration holding center while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). A year later, CBSA has refused to release details about the case, citing privacy. But information has now come to light after media obtained the Quebec coroner’s investigation, which stated that “this death could have been avoidable.”</p> <p>Bryan was an American citizen with an established life in Quebec and had been in immigration detention for 53 days at the time of his death. According to the coroner’s report, he had been “stressed and sad” and warned he would kill himself if he were deported and separated from his son. He had attempted suicide four days earlier, and in response, CBSA placed him in solitary confinement.</p> #WelcometoCanada <p class="promo__subtitle text-white text-xs py-4 font-serif ">Our #WelcomeToCanada campaign is going coast to coast. The federal government has contracts with provinces across Canada that allow for immigration detainees to be held in provincial jails. Call on the federal government of Canada to cancel these contracts!</p> TAKE ACTION <p>Since 2000, at least 17 people have died in immigration detention, most in provincial jails. </p> <p>Just last month, on Christmas Day, a woman reportedly died by suicide in CBSA custody at the Surrey, British Columbia immigration holding center. The Agency has not released any details about her identity, the circumstances of her death, or why she was in immigration detention.</p> <p>In Ontario, a coroner’s inquest started this month into the 2015 death of Abdurahman Hassan, who was incarcerated in a maximum-security provincial jail for three years, had mental health conditions, and whose family had fled Somalia, seeking asylum in Toronto. The inquest has revealed graphic details about Abdulrahman’s final days after he lost consciousness in his solitary confinement cell.</p> <p>CBSA has a history of cloaking fatalities of immigration detainees in secrecy and refusing to release information about those who die in custody. In the process, people who spent their final years, months, days, and hours in CBSA custody are dehumanized even after their death.</p> <p>Despite these tragic deaths, Canada continues to pride itself on welcoming newcomers. But as Alberta’s public safety minister Mike Ellis said last week while calling on other provinces to stop immigration detention in provincial jails, “People who come to Canada for a fresh start and a new life deserve a better welcome than a jail cell while paperwork is sorted out.”</p> <p>Canada should take concrete steps to abolish immigration detention. Nothing makes this imperative more urgent than this continued and avoidable loss of life.</p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 08:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Cameroon: Prominent Investigative Journalist Killed Click to expand Image Mourners place candles in a room of Radio Amplitude FM where a portrait of journalist Martinez Zogo has been placed to pay tribute to him in Elig Essono district in Yaounde, Cameroon, on January 23, 2023.  © DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/AFP via Getty Images <p>Cameroonian authorities should conduct an effective and transparent investigation into the killing of Martinez Zogo, a leading investigative journalist, Human Rights Watch said today. Zogo, who was director of the radio station Amplitude FM, regularly exposed corruption through his work and, in the days before he was killed, spoke on the air about threats he faced.<br /><br /> Zogo’s body was found on January 22, 2023, in Soa, a suburb of the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé. Media accounts said Zogo’s body showed signs consistent with severe torture, including “a broken foot, cut fingers.” One article said that “he received electric shocks, he was made to eat his feces, the tongue did not have its normal position….” Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain an autopsy report. The government released a statement on January 22 stating that Zogo had “endured significant bodily harm.”<br /><br /> “Martinez Zogo was a journalist who took great risks to expose the truth about corruption,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “His heinous killing sends a chilling message to all other journalists in Cameroon. Cameroonian authorities should conduct a prompt and impartial investigation so that Zogo’s killers can be brought to justice.”<br /><br /> Zogo was last seen by colleagues on the evening of January 17, after he finished his work in Yaoundé. Police at their post in Nkol-Nkondi neighborhood said they heard a loud noise outside later that night and found Zogo’s damaged car by the gate, as if someone had tried unsuccessfully to drive through it. No one was in the car when the police arrived, but after Zogo’s body was found, the police speculated that he may have been trying to enter the post to seek protection from his assailants. Police reportedly assumed he was kidnapped from his car by the eventual killers.<br /><br /> Some sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists that neighbors said unidentified men had been seen outside Zogo’s home for several nights before his abduction. On January 18, Zogo’s wife discovered that the brakes on her car had been tampered with.  <br /><br /> Zogo was the host of a popular daily radio program, Embouteillage (traffic jam). During his show, he regularly discussed corruption cases, at times accusing well-known people by name. In the weeks before he was killed, Zogo spoke on the radio of his work investigating embezzlement in public institutions and said he would name people involved. Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a report Zogo allegedly submitted to judicial authorities before his death, in which he calls for an investigation into corruption by a high-profile person.<br /><br /> In January 2020, the former wife of a government official accused Zogo of defamation. The authorities opened a criminal investigation and arrested him. He spent two months in pretrial detention, was convicted and sentenced to two months in prison in March 2020, and then released for time served.  <br /><br /> Zogo’s murder has been met with widespread condemnation, in and outside of Cameroon. The National Journalists Union (Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun, SNJC) wrote of “consequences which further restrict freedom and security in our country” and said that, “Where are freedom of press, of opinion and of expression in Cameroon when working for the media puts you at mortal risk ?” Civil society organizations strongly denounced Zogo’s death and called for the support of the international community to ensure justice.<br /><br /> Communication Minister René Emmanuel Sadi has issued two media statements since Zogo’s murder, including one on January 22, stating that an “investigation was opened to find and bring to justice the perpetrators of this odious, unspeakable and inadmissible crime, which cannot be justified under any pretext” and insisting that Cameroon is a country that respects rule of law and where freedom of the press is guaranteed.<br /><br /> But Zogo’s murder only highlights the difficult working environment for journalists in Cameroon, Human Rights Watch said.<br /><br /> In August 2019, Samuel Wazizi, an English-speaking journalist working at a privately owned broadcaster, Chillen Muzik and TV (CMTV) was arrested in Buea, South-West region. Wazizi covered the conflict in the Anglophone regions as well as corruption cases. In early June 2020, the authorities announced that Wazizi had died in custody on an undetermined date. Wazizi had not been seen since his arrest by family members or his lawyer. Wazizi was accused of speaking critically on the air about the authorities and their handling of the Anglophone crisis.<br /><br /> Ahmed Abba, a journalist for Radio France Internationale (RFI), was arrested in July 2015 after reporting on activities by the armed group Boko Haram in the country’s Far North region. He was held incommunicado for three months and tortured before finally being sentenced to 10 years under anti-terrorism laws on the grounds that he had failed to report terrorism acts to authorities. His sentence was later reduced, and he was released in December 2017.<br /><br /> “Martinez Zogo’s killing should not be swept under the carpet,” Mudge said. “Cameroonian authorities should live up to the government’s own words and actively protect journalists, who risk their lives to do their work, and hold Zogo’s killers – and all others who intimidate media professionals – to account.”<br />  </p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 03:50:25 -0500 Human Rights Watch Indian Government App Exposed Children’s Personal Data Click to expand Image Children studies online using borrowed mobile phones in Mumbai, India, during school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. October 16, 2020.  © 2020 Ashish Vaishnav/Sipa via AP Images <p>WIRED reported this week that the Indian government had, for over a year, exposed the personal data of nearly 600,000 students and more than a million teachers on the open web for anyone to find. </p> <p>Human Rights Watch spoke to Nathaniel Fried, co-founder of Anduin, the intelligence software company that had identified the exposure, and learned that the students and teachers were from every state in India.</p> <p>These students and teachers were users of Diksha, an app owned and used by the central government’s education ministry to provide online education to students in grades 1 to 12.  </p> <p>Our analysis found that the unprotected records included children’s names, schools, the state, district, and block where they live, test scores, and partially redacted phone numbers and email addresses. </p> <p>Knowing a child’s name and school can jeopardize their safety. In May 2022, Human Rights Watch reported that Diksha had the capacity to collect children’s precise location data, which it failed to disclose in its privacy policy.  </p> <p>According to Fried and verified by Human Rights Watch, the data spanned March 2020 to December 2022 when many children were compelled to use Diksha as their only means of education during Covid-19 school closures. Some state education ministries set quotas to pressure teachers to get students to download the app. </p> <p>The government thus made it impossible for children to protect themselves from misuse or exploitation of their data without abandoning their education. Moreover, the government violated students’ privacy at a time when many families made hard sacrifices to afford devices and Internet access so children could learn. </p> <p>Human Rights Watch wrote to India’s education ministry in March, May, and July 2022 to raise concerns, but received no response. In a November 2022 letter to India’s education minister, member of parliament Karti Chidambaram questioned the government’s lack of oversight, given the absence of data protection laws, and said that the government’s “sheer disregard for children’s privacy and safety is appalling.” </p> <p>The education ministry denied that Diksha collects precise location data, but acknowledged collecting state and district location data. It also denied that the app used users’ data for advertising or other commercial purposes, but Human Rights Watch found Diksha transmitting children’s data to a third-party company using advertising trackers. </p> <p>The Indian government’s proposed data protection law fails to protect children. The government should pass a data protection law that would fully protect children online, and hold accountable all who fail to do so.  </p> Fri, 27 Jan 2023 00:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch El Salvador: Leaked Database Points to Large-Scale Abuses Click to expand Image People arrested by police wait in zip tie handcuffs in the back of a truck to be transferred to a prison at the Police Delegation of San Bartolo in Soyapango, El Salvador, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. © AP Photo/Salvador Melendez <p>(New York) – A database obtained by Human Rights Watch supports findings of mass due process violations, severe prison overcrowding, and deaths in custody in El Salvador, Human Rights Watch and Cristosal said today.</p> <p>The database appears to belong to the Ministry of Public Safety and lists names of people prosecuted between March and late-August 2022 during the country’s state of emergency. It indicates that thousands of people, including hundreds of children, have been arrested and charged with broadly defined crimes that violate detainees’ basic due process guarantees and undermine prospects of justice for victims of gang violence. The document also supports Human Rights Watch and Cristosal’s findings of severe overcrowding conditions in detention and deaths in custody.</p> <p>“This leaked database points to serious human rights violations committed during the state of emergency,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “According to the data, Salvadoran authorities have inhumanely packed detainees, including hundreds of children, in crowded detention sites, while doing very little to ensure victims’ access to justice for gang violence.”</p> <p>In March 2022, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed a state of emergency, suspending some fundamental rights in response to a peak in gang violence. The measure has been extended 10 times and remains in place. Police officers and soldiers have detained over 61,000 people since March, according to the authorities. About 3,000 people have been released, in many cases under parole, and 58,000 remain in prison.</p> <p>The database provides the names, ages, and gender of people prosecuted under the state of emergency between March and August 2022. It also contains information about the charges against detainees, and the city where they were arrested.</p> <p>A reliable source indicated that the database belongs to the Public Safety Ministry. To assess its authenticity, Human Rights Watch cross-referenced the names in the database with other sources, including cases documented by local organizations or reported in the media, and identified over 300 matches. Other information presented in the database, including the crimes attributed to many of the detainees, the detention facilities where they were often sent, and the total number of people in pre-trial detention, are consistent with Human Rights Watch and Cristosal’s findings and with information publicly reported by government authorities.</p> <p>The following information in the database raises serious human rights concerns:</p> As of late August, 1,082 children arrested during the state of emergency – 918 boys and 164 girls – had been sent to pre-trial detention, including 21 who were ages 12 or 13. These incarcerations were made possible under a March 2022 law that lowered from 16 to 12 the age of criminal responsibility for children accused of gang related crimes. The database indicates that 32 people died in custody, most of them at the La Esperanza, also known as Mariona, and Izalco prisons. Salvadoran authorities reported in November that 90 people have died in custody since March, in circumstances that have yet to be properly investigated. Over 39,000 people had been charged with the crime of “unlawful association” and over 8,000 with membership to a “terrorist organization.” In comparison, many fewer people had been charged with violent crimes. 148 people, or less than 0.3 percent of the detainees, were charged with homicide and 303 people, or less than 0.6 percent, were charged with sexual assault. El Salvador defines the crime of “unlawful association” broadly to include not only people who lead or take part on gangs, but also those who receive “indirect benefit” from gangs by having relations “of any nature.” Salvadoran law also defines “terrorist organization” in a broad manner that runs counter to international standards. The use of these broadly defined crimes opens the door to arbitrary arrests of people with no relevant connection to gangs, and does little to ensure justice for violent gang abuses, such as killings and rape. As of August, over 50,000 people had been sent to pre-trial detention, increasing the prison population to over 86,000. According to public information, as of February 2021, prisons in El Salvador had capacity of 30,000. Those sent to pre-trial detention since the adoption of the state of emergency include over 7,900 women, double the total number in jail in El Salvador as of February 2021. Most of the detainees were sent to Mariona prison, where the population increased from 7,600 from 33,000, and to the Izalco prison, where the population increased from 8,500 to 23,300. According to the database, as of August, Mariona had four times as many detainees as it could hold, and Izalco had three times as many. Other detention facilities, such as the Ilopango prison for women and the prison of San Miguel for men, had populations of six times capacity. In October, the head of the prison system, Osiris Luna Meza, said that the women detained in Ilopango had been transferred to another prison. <p>A December 2022 report by Human Rights Watch and Cristosal found widespread human rights violations committed under the state of emergency, including mass arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees, deaths in custody, and abuse-ridden prosecutions. In some cases, officers also refused to provide information about the detainees’ whereabouts to their relatives and acquaintances, in what amounts to enforced disappearances under international law.</p> <p>Security forces have carried out hundreds of indiscriminate raids, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, targeting marginalized communities where people have, for years, suffered from lack of economic and educational opportunities. The mass arrests have led to the detention of hundreds of people with no apparent connections to gangs’ abusive activity.</p> <p>The abuses committed during the state of emergency have been enabled by President Bukele’s swift dismantling of democratic institutions since taking office in 2019, which has left virtually no independent government bodies that can serve as a check on the executive branch or ensure redress for victims of abuse.</p> <p>The government has also restricted access to public information and weakened the role of the Access to Public Information Agency. The authorities told Human Rights Watch and Cristosal that information about people detained during the state of emergency is “classified,” even when it is of public interest under international human rights standards.</p> <p>Salvadoran authorities should replace the state of emergency with a sustainable and rights-respecting strategy to address gang violence and protect the population from gang abuses, Human Rights Watch and Cristosal said. The strategy should include tackling high levels of poverty and social exclusion, and focusing on prosecutions of higher-level gang leaders.</p> <p>“These new findings support the conclusions of our reports on widespread human rights violations, which are especially serious in a context of lack of accountability and massive due process violations. We urge governments in the region to guarantee public security without engaging in unfair policies,” said Noah Bullock, executive director of Cristosal.</p>   Fri, 27 Jan 2023 00:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Spain Debates Dangerous Sex Work Law Click to expand Image Sex workers protest in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, against the the proposed criminalization of sex work, October 22, 2021. © 2021 Cecilia Montagut <p>Spanish lawmakers should reject a potential law criminalizing sex work that is being debated in parliament. Research across Europe consistently shows that laws criminalizing the purchase of sex, known as the Nordic Model, increase sexual violence and harassment against sex workers, while having no demonstrable effect on human trafficking or the demand for sex.</p> <p>Research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice showed “no evidence” that the 2015 criminalization of the purchase of sex led to a decrease in demand for sexual services, and had a “limited deterrent effect on client behaviour.” In France, the 2016 introduction of the Nordic Model created a fear of arrest for clients, which forced street sex workers into secluded, dangerous locations and led to a spike in gruesome murders. Statistics from, a sex worker organization based in Ireland, showed a 92 percent jump in reports of violent crime against sex workers in the country the first two years after the country adopted the Nordic Model in 2017. In 2022, an Irish Department of Justice-funded report found that one-fifth of sex workers interviewed had been sexually exploited by police, and that the legislation had “drastically marginalized” an at-risk population.</p> <p>The Spanish bill also threatens the right to housing, stipulating up to four years in prison for anyone (including other sex workers) who rents a room to “facilitate the prostitution of another person, even with their consent.” This could criminalize sex workers who live and work together as a safety measure.</p> <p>The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Advisory Group on Sex Work wrote in 2009 about the criminalization of activities associated with selling sex, like providing transportation to sex workers in danger or owning an establishment where sex is sold. “Thus … sex workers and their managers, other associates and even family members can face criminal charges.”</p> <p>Criminalization also undermines and endangers the work of activists and human rights defenders. A 2021 report found that anti-sex work laws make it dangerous for advocates to gather in person, organize online, contact trafficking victims, and conduct health outreach in brothels, for fear of being arrested.</p> <p>Spanish lawmakers should act on what credible data consistently shows: criminalizing clients does not make workers safer, nor eliminate demand. Rather, it opens the door to further exploitation, forces sex workers to abandon security measures, and erodes the work of human rights defenders.</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 17:42:28 -0500 Human Rights Watch Morocco: Saudi Man at Risk of Forced Return Click to expand Image Hassan Al Rabea. © Private <p>(Beirut) – Moroccan authorities may extradite a Saudi citizen to Saudi Arabia, where he is at serious risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and an unfair trial, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>Moroccan authorities detained Hassan Al Rabea at the Marrakesh Airport on January 14, 2023, as he was attempting to travel to Turkey. Saudi prosecutors are seeking to try Al Rabea for working with “terrorists” to help him leave Saudi Arabia “irregularly,” based on an arrest warrant that Human Rights Watch has reviewed.</p> <p>“Given the rampant torture and due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, Morocco should not forcibly return Hassan Al Rabea there and risk complicity in Saudi abuses,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch.</p> <p>The authorities have previously targeted other members of Al Rabea’s family, including two cousins who were executed in 2019 for alleged protest-related and terrorism offenses and a brother facing a death sentence for alleged terrorism. Al Rabea belongs to the Shia minority, which faces systemic discrimination by the Saudi state.</p> <p>A family member told Human Rights Watch that while Al Rabea was at Marrakesh airport, he messaged a friend, “I don’t know what is going on, but there is something wrong.” Friends and family were unable to reach Al Rabea after he sent this message.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch obtained an arrest warrant issued by Saudi’s public prosecution and stamped by the Department of International Cooperation. It shows that the Public Prosecution ordered Al Rabea’s arrest on October 19, 2022, on charges of “collaboration with terrorists by having them agree and collaborate with him to get him outside of Saudi Arabia in an irregular fashion,” a crime that can carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years. A provisional arrest warrant was issued on November 22, 2022, upon the request of Saudi authorities.</p> <p>Al Rabea appeared in Morocco’s Court of First Instance on January 14, after which he was sent to Tiflet 2 prison to await a decision by the Rabat Court of Cassation on his extradition, according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch.</p> <p>Al Rabea’s relative told Human Rights Watch that he left Saudi Arabia in late 2021 to escape continued harassment by Saudi authorities. Al Rabea initially traveled to Ukraine, and then to Indonesia at the onset of the Russian invasion, before eventually arriving in Morocco in the summer of 2022, the family member said.</p> <p>Al Rabea’s arrest and detention in Morocco is the latest targeting of members of the Al Rabea family by the Saudi government. The authorities in recent years have increasingly retaliated against the family members of critics and dissidents abroad in an effort to coerce them to return to the country.</p> <p>On February 7, 2021, Saudi State Security raided the family home in ‘Awwamiyya and arrested Hassan Al Rabea, along with two of his brothers, Ali and Hussein. While Hassan and Hussein were released after one day in detention, Ali was held incommunicado for eight months in Dammam prison.</p> <p>Saudi authorities charged Ali Al Rabea with a slew of crimes related to terrorism, including facilitating the movements of “terrorists,” according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch. On November 5, 2022, a court sentenced Ali Al Rabea to death. A family member contested Ali’s guilt, saying that he was not politically active.</p> <p>Two of Al Rabea’s cousins, Hussein Al Rabea and Ahmed Al Rabea, were executed on April 23, 2019, in a mass execution of 37 men, 33 of them Shia, who had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses, espionage, and terrorism.</p> <p>Many Saudi Shia are serving lengthy sentences, are on death row, or have been executed for protest-related charges following patently unfair trials. Human Rights Watch has also documented the use of “confessions” allegedly obtained by torture and ill-treatment, including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement, to convict men and children accused of protest-related crimes following demonstrations by members of the Shia minority in 2011 and 2012 in Eastern Province towns during which some security personnel and citizens were injured.</p> <p>On March 13, 2021, Morocco deported Osama al-Hasani, a Saudi-Australian national, to Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities said he was wanted in connection with a 2015 car theft case, though he had been cleared in 2018 of wrongdoing in the case.</p> <p>Extraditing Al Rabea may violate Morocco’s international obligations, including article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which states that “no State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”</p> <p>“If returned to Saudi Arabia, Hassan Al Rabea could risk a grim fate like many of his relatives,” Shea said. “The Moroccan government should stand for rights and resist Saudi efforts to forcibly return him.”</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 12:15:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Greece: Migrant Rights Defenders Face Charges Click to expand Image Left: Panayote Dimitras. Right: Tommy Olsen. © 2019 EIN Secretariat – Agnes Ciccarone © 2015 Adam Rosser <p>(Athens, January 26, 2023) – Greek authorities have brought unfounded charges against two migrants’ rights defenders, Panayote Dimitras and Tommy Olsen, linked to their peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said today. The case is part of a wider pattern of prosecutions of activists working with migrants.</p> <p>The activists were charged by Greek judicial authorities on the island of Kos for “forming or joining for profit and by profession a criminal organization with the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of third country nationals into Greek territory.” They are alleged to have done this by sending information to Greek authorities about the details and whereabouts of newly arrived migrants, so that the migrants could claim asylum in Greece. The court also issued restrictions on Dimitras sought by the prosecution that are preventing his organization from doing its lawful work.</p> <p>“Both Dimitras and Olsen have spent years shedding light on human rights violations taking place at Greece’s borders and sought justice for those affected,” said Eva Cossé, senior Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than address those abuses, the Greek authorities are trying to silence the messenger and intimidate those working to defend the rights of people on the move.”</p> <p>The authorities should drop all charges against the two men and end the restrictions sought by the prosecution from the court on Dimitras, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>Dimitras is head and founder of the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) nongovernmental group and a prominent Greek human rights defender who has been active for 30 years. Olsen, who is based in Norway, is founder and director of the Aegean Boat Report (ABR), a Norwegian nongovernmental group founded in 2018 that monitors the attempts of asylum seekers and migrants to cross the Aegean Sea as well as the human rights violations committed against them, including illegal pushbacks.</p> <p>Dimitras was indicted for alerting authorities about the arrival of migrants on the Greek islands of Kos and Farmakonisi on July 13, 2021. At the time, Dimitras sent several emails to the Hellenic Police, the Hellenic Coast Guard, the Greek migration authorities, the United Nations Refugee Agency in Greece, and the Greek Ombudsman listing the migrants’ names and nationalities and informing the officials that the migrants wanted to apply for asylum. This is something he had been doing routinely.</p> <p>The indictment alleges that Olsen “facilitated the entry and residence of third country nationals into Greek territory” in cooperation with Dimitras and two alleged human traffickers. The indictment further states that Olsen sent a “message via e-mail to the Greek authorities including the details of the third country nationals, as well as their location in order for them to join the asylum procedures.” Olsen’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he received official notification about the case against him on January 2, 2023.</p> <p>On December 20, 2022, Dimitras appeared before the investigative judge of Kos to respond to the charges against him. On January 24, Dimitras was served a Judicial Council decision, issued at the request of prosecutors, banning him from carrying out any of GHM’s activities, including a prohibition on communicating “with irregularly entering foreigners” as a preventative measure pending trial.</p> <p>The Judicial Council deals with procedural matters, including disputes arising in the preliminary proceedings between the prosecutor and investigative judge on preventative measures to be imposed. The Judicial Council further imposed a ban on Dimitras leaving the country, a 10,000 Euro bail, and a requirement to report bimonthly to the police.</p> <p>Dimitras is GHM’s main representative and preventing him from carrying out the group’s activities effectively suspends most of its work. Dimitras told Human Rights Watch that before issuing its preventative measures, the Judicial Council had failed to examine procedural objections he had submitted in his case, including whether the Kos court has jurisdiction in this matter.</p> <p>The day after Dimitras appeared before the investigative judge, three confidential files related to his case were leaked and published by online media. Information about the case against both Dimitras and Olsen had been leaked to the media in October, with Greece’s largest national newspaper, Kathimerini, publishing an article containing details of the investigation in Kos and providing identifying information about the two while not naming them directly.</p> <p>In September 2020 and July 2021, Greek police announced they had opened similar criminal cases, one against 33 foreign nationals and members of four unnamed nongovernmental groups, and another against 10 foreign nationals. However, it appears that no indictment followed. While Greek police did not publicly name the groups whose staff members were under investigation, pro-government media identified Aegean Boat Report in the 2021 case.</p> <p>In June 2022, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, presenting her preliminary findings at the end of a 10-day mission in Greece, described an environment of fear and insecurity for human rights defenders in the country, particularly those defending migrants’ rights. Lawlor warned that human rights defenders in Greece:</p> <p>not only face criminal sanctions for their activities but are operating in an increasingly hostile environment where the general public is influenced by negative rhetoric from<br /> high-ranking officials and their unfavorable portrayal by mainstream media, often conflating their activities with those of people traffickers and criminal networks.</p> <p>On January 25, Lawlor warned in a tweet against “what strongly appears to be an arbitrary criminal investigation” against Dimitras and Olsen.<br /> In its Rule of Law report published in July 2022, the European Commission noted the narrowing space for groups working with migrants and asylum seekers in Greece.</p> <p>In a January 12 statement, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, warned against the prosecution of Dimitras and other human rights defenders, including Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder, and urged Greek authorities “to ensure that human rights defenders and journalists can work safely and freely, by providing an enabling environment for their work and publicly recognizing their important role in a democratic society.”</p> <p>The Greek authorities have unlawfully pushed back thousands of would-be asylum seekers and migrants to Turkey from the Aegean Sea over the past decade.</p> <p>“The prosecution of Dimitras and Olsen is meant to send a chilling message to all who dare to seek accountability and defend the rights of migrants,” Cossé said. “The Greek government needs to stop treating human rights defenders as criminals and focus that energy on respecting the rights of people on Greek territory and at its external borders.”</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 11:16:30 -0500 Human Rights Watch Philippines: Officials ‘Red-Tagging’ Indigenous Leaders, Activists Click to expand Image Family and members of the Indigenous Dumagat tribe carry the coffins of Puroy and Randy Dela Cruz to be buried in Rizal province, Philippines, March 17, 2021. The two were among nine activists advocating Indigenous and land rights killed by state security forces earlier that month.   © 2021 Jes Aznar/Getty Images <p>(New York) – Philippine authorities are using “red-tagging” and other forms of threats and violence to intimidate Indigenous leaders and activists opposed to government-backed projects in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said today. The longtime practice of “red-tagging,” in which those resisting projects are accused of being fighters or supporters of the communist insurgency, makes them potential targets of government security forces.</p> <p>The harassment and attacks against Indigenous peoples contribute to making the Philippines one of Asia’s most dangerous countries for environmental activists and land defenders. Activists are also harassed through the justice system, with many facing politically motivated charges for defamation and other fabricated offenses. The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should urgently issue a clear directive to all government officials to stop red-tagging and take appropriate action against those responsible.</p> <p>“The Philippine officials’ red-tagging of Indigenous leaders and activists has often proven deadly and put their communities at risk,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Indigenous communities have the right to peacefully express their views and protect their land and cultural heritage without fear of violence or death.”</p> <p>Several Indigenous leaders and their advocates told Human Rights Watch about being red-tagged and that the false accusations harmed their lives and work. Beverly Longid, national convener of Katribu, a political party that advances Indigenous peoples’ rights, has long been targeted for harassment and red-tagging. “Even before I joined Katribu in 2009, I was already being red-tagged,” Longid said. She is former chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, an outspoken Indigenous rights network.</p> <p>The harassment has taken many forms, Longid said, including the circulation of her photo retouched to depict her wearing underwear, a pair of horns, and fangs. In 2020, during a news conference organized by the local police and livestreamed on Facebook, a police informant accused her of being a recruiter for the communist New People’s Army (NPA) insurgency, but she was never charged.</p> <p>Companies involved in projects often work closely with the police and military to secure control over project areas, which can raise tensions and result in violence. Rival Indigenous groups have been organized to serve as a foil against groups criticizing these projects, claiming to represent the entire community in support of the project despite opposition.</p> <p>Red-tagging has been used to exclude dissenting Indigenous communities from the requirement of “free, prior and informed consent,” the international legal principle that has been incorporated into the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997. Companies have a responsibility to mitigate any harm that stems from their activities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.</p> <p>Longid said that she suspects that her work in recent years, particularly bringing Indigenous peoples’ rights issues before the UN Human Rights Council, has made her a prime target. “We are very active in human rights mechanisms in the UN, that’s why they’re going after us,” Longid said. “We are always watching our backs.”</p> <p>Prince Turtogo, national coordinator of Panaghiusa, a broad Philippine network of Indigenous peoples’ groups, said that his organization found that red-tagging often escalates into violent attacks. During the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Panaghiusa recorded 126 cases of extrajudicial killings of leaders and members of Indigenous communities from 2016 to 2021. “All of those Indigenous leaders and civilians or their groups experienced red-tagging at least at one point,” Turtogo said.</p> <p>Indigenous rights activists have also been harassed though the court system, with politically motivated cases of defamation, terrorism, and common crimes filed against them. Sarah Dekdeken, chair of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, was convicted in December 2022 of a cyber-libel charge filed against her by a police officer whom Dekdeken had accused in a social media post of ordering the removal of monuments dedicated to tribal leaders. Windel Bolinget, another Indigenous rights leader from the northern Philippines, is facing murder charges that he asserts were fabricated to harass him for his advocacy.</p> <p>Red-tagging, Turtogo said, “makes the human rights violations more extensive as it strips the victims of the protections of the law because they’re tagged as communists or terrorists.” He said that red-tagging is often a precursor to violent attacks and is used to justify human rights violations. </p> <p>Philippine security forces have used red-baiting for decades in their campaign against the communist insurgency, and despite international criticism its use has not lessened. The UN Human Rights Council, the European Union, and other international actors have all spoken out against red-tagging, but Philippine authorities continue to provide support and approval for the practice. In October 2022, the justice secretary defended red-tagging before the UN Human Rights Council, calling it “part of democracy.”</p> <p>Units of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have also engaged in red-tagging through social media posts. Tarps and streamers have been posted on walls and buildings, with the names and pictures of those targeted. In the case of Kalikasan, an environmental group that advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples and environmentalists, unidentified men put up red-tagging streamers made of used plastic sacks and threw some of these in front of Kalikasan’s office in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Red-tagging has also occurred during official meetings, such as town council sessions, in which officials have alleged that identified Indigenous leaders are affiliated with rebel groups.</p> <p>Other government agencies involved in red-tagging of Indigenous leaders and members are the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the presidential National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict. Pro-government media networks such as Sonshine Media Network International, which has partnered with the military in spreading anti-communist propaganda, have also used red-tagging.</p> <p>Red-tagging has had a lasting impact on Indigenous communities on issues unrelated to the communist insurgency. It has been used to harass, threaten, and sideline leaders and members of Indigenous communities who oppose major projects such as mining operations and hydropower dams across the country.</p> <p>“Ancestral lands with impending or existing projects are often the areas where the red-tagging occurs,” Turtogo said. He cited the cases of the hydroelectric project at Kaliwa Dam in the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Gened Dam in Apayao province, and the OceanaGold mining project in Nueva Vizcaya province, all on Luzon island.</p> <p>“Because of the red-tagging, organizing these communities have become difficult,” said Jon Angelo Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan. “It hampers our efforts to engage with affected communities.”</p> <p>Opposition to projects from Indigenous communities has frequently led the military to increase its presence in affected areas. In the past, a heavy military presence, often accompanied by increased operations by the New People’s Army, has brought more volatility to the situation. Human Rights Watch and others have long documented human rights abuses by military and paramilitary forces against Indigenous community leaders and members. The New People’s Army has also been responsible for attacks targeting Indigenous leaders deemed to be working with the government.</p> <p>“Very often Indigenous leaders and their communities have become pawns of the Philippine military and the New People’s Army at great cost to their lives and way of life,” Robertson said. “Concerned governments should denounce the deadly red-tagging and press the Marcos government to end it.”</p> <p> </p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 08:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Kyrgyzstan: Lawsuit Seeks to Shut Independent Media Outlet Click to expand Image Protesters flash the light of their mobile phones during a rally for freedom of speech and freedom for political prisoners in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on November 25, 2022. © 2022 Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP via Getty Images <p>(Bishkek, January 26, 2023) – The Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture has filed a lawsuit to try to terminate the operation of “Azattyk Media,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately withdraw the lawsuit and cease its harassment of independent media outlets.</p> <p>The ministry filed the lawsuit before a district court in the capital, Bishkek, on January 23, 2023. The ministry blocked access to Azattyk Media’s websites and froze its bank account in October 2022, following the outlet’s coverage of a border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Azattyk Media filed a legal appeal. The hearing is scheduled for January 26.</p> <p>“Shutting down Azattyk Media would be a huge blow to media freedom in Kyrgyzstan and the lawsuit should be immediately withdrawn,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to end its attempts to control and censor independent journalism in Kyrgyzstan and restore its commitment to international human rights obligations, particularly to media freedom.”</p> <p>In October 2022, using the controversial Law on Protection from False Information, the ministry ordered access to Azattyk Media’s websites, blocked for two - months because of a video broadcast about the September border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The order was extended indefinitely after the outlet refused to take down the video. The authorities claim the video, which featured correspondents from both countries presenting the official positions of their governments, used hate speech and false information to imply that Kyrgyzstan had attacked Tajikistan.</p> <p>The January 23 lawsuit refers to the Kyrgyz Law on Mass Media Article 23 (clause C), which prohibits “propaganda of war, violence and cruelty, national, religious exclusivity and intolerance towards other peoples and nations.” In the lawsuit, the ministry says that Azattyk Media’s refusal to take down the video in defiance of the October order has led to the video’s wide circulation on social media, which the ministry construes as propaganda. A hearing in this case is scheduled for February 9. </p> <p>The ministry first asked Azattyk Media to take down the video on September 16, followed by a warning that it would use the Law on Protection from False Information to suspend the sites if the video was not removed within 24 hours. Azattyk Media formally responded, refusing to take down the video, in accordance with what it considers to be standard journalistic practice. The authorities then froze the media outlet’s bank account.</p> <p>Kyrgyzstan’s media community has expressed its concern over the Kyrgyz government’s continued harassment of independent journalists and attempts to restrict media freedom, saying that the ministry should withdraw the lawsuit. The Committee for Protection of Journalists has said that the potential shutdown of Azattyk Media would be a stain on the country’s international reputation. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty issued a statement rejecting “these continued unlawful attacks against Radio Azattyk and our independent reporting.”</p> <p>Kyrgyz authorities have recently increased efforts to control and censor mass media amid a continued crackdown on freedom of expression and civil society. On November 23, Bishkek’s city court ordered the expulsion of Bolot Temirov, an investigative journalist from Kyrgyzstan, in apparent retaliation for his professional activities.</p> <p>In September, the Kyrgyz administration submitted draft amendments to the Law on Mass Media, which included penalties for “abuse of freedom of speech” (Article 4), for public consideration. After the draft drew significant criticism, the government withdrew it with the stated intent to rework it in cooperation with media experts, but the most recent draft is reported to have strengthened restrictions on media and ignored civil society suggestions.</p> <p>On January 20, United States Senators Bob Menendez and Jim Risch, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement condemning the Kyrgyz government’s crackdown on RFE/RL and other independent media in the country. The Kyrgyz President’s press secretary, Erbol Sultanbaev, responded via his Facebook page, claiming that Kyrgyzstan had the right conditions for a fully functioning independent media in the country.</p> <p>“Kyrgyz authorities should ensure favorable conditions for independent media in the country, not just on paper, but with their actions,” Sultanalieva said. “The Kyrgyz government should stand up for independent media, not undermine its work.”</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 00:01:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch China: Free ‘White Paper’ Protesters Click to expand Image Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, China, November 27, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File <p>(New York) – Chinese authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against everyone detained for participating in the “white paper” protests against the government, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should also cease harassment of lawyers and friends of protesters and the censorship of protest-related information on social media.</p> <p>In November 2022, thousands of people across China, including in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and Wuhan, took to the streets to protest the government’s strict Covid-19 measures and to denounce the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule. Demonstrators held blank papers – hence “white paper” protests – and chanted slogans such as “End zero-Covid,” “We want human rights,” and “Down with the Communist Party!”</p> <p>“Young people in China are paying a heavy price for daring to speak out for freedom and human rights,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments and international institutions around the world should show support and call on the Chinese authorities to release them immediately.”</p> <p>The protests were in response to an earlier fire at an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwest Xinjiang region, in which at least 10 people were killed, reportedly because they were prevented from escaping the blaze due to pandemic control barriers. The protests – dominated by young people – also drew wide support from the Chinese diaspora, as thousands also staged rallies in major cities in over a dozen countries from New Zealand to Canada.</p> <p>A few days after the protests, the government abruptly lifted most of the Covid restrictions nationwide. With low vaccination rates among China’s older population and medical professionals caught off guard, the decision resulted in a rapid surge in Covid infections, hospitalizations, and deaths across the country. The authorities suppressed Covid death and infection numbers by preventing hospitals and families from registering Covid as a cause of death.</p> <p>Meanwhile, authorities across the country harassed or detained dozens of students, journalists, and others – notably many women – who participated in the protests. Some protesters have been released on bail. Others remain detained, with a number of them having been formally arrested. The current whereabouts or conditions of some of the detainees remain unknown.</p> <p>In Beijing, Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨), a 26-year-old editor at a publishing house, was taken by the police a few days after she attended a riverside vigil to commemorate the victims of the Urumqi fire. In a recorded video, which was released after her detention, Cao said several friends had also been detained and called for public attention to their situation. Beijing police also detained Li Yuanjing (李元婧), an accountant; Zhai Dengrui (翟登蕊), a teacher; and Li Siqi (李思琪), a journalist. The four were all later formally arrested on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”</p> <p>Under article 293 of China’s Criminal Law, the crime carries a sentence of up to five years in prison for first-time offenders. The offense – activists call it a “pocket crime” – is broadly defined and is frequently used by authorities to criminalize peaceful protests and online criticism of the Chinese government.</p> <p>In Shanghai, the authorities detained Li Yi (李艺) and Chen Jialin (陈佳林), who participated in the protest on Urumqi Middle Road on November 24, which inspired later protests across the country. Their whereabouts and legal status are unclear.</p> <p>The authorities released a few protesters on bail, including the Beijing-based journalist Yang Liu (杨柳) and the Shenzhen-based filmmaker and journalist Qin Ziyi (秦梓奕), an alumna of the University of Chicago, whose Center for East Asia Studies issued a statement calling for her release, so far the only foreign institution of higher education known to have done so.</p> <p>More protesters are believed to have been detained or forcibly disappeared, though their cases are not publicly known, given the Chinese authorities’ practice of threatening detainees’ families to keep silent. An overseas human rights group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and an anonymous Chinese activist group have maintained rolling lists of protesters arrested, forcibly disappeared, and released, though Human Rights Watch is unable to independently verify all of the cases on these lists.</p> <p>The police have also threatened lawyers who tried to provide legal assistance to the detained protesters and suspended a group chat the lawyers use on the Chinese social media app, WeChat. Authorities have harassed friends of detained protesters who provided them support.</p> <p>On the Chinese internet within the Great Firewall, information related to the “white paper” protests is selectively censored. Weibo and WeChat accounts that showed support for the protests were suspended. A WeChat account that merely posted a picture of a blank paper was permanently removed. At the same time, posts and comments that blamed the protesters for the surge of Covid deaths following the policy reversal were widespread on social media. “National security officers, thank you for your hard work, [we] must not let [those protesters] loose,” a netizen said on Weibo. The post garnered over 4,000 likes.</p> <p>“Attending a vigil and calling for authorities to respect human rights are not crimes,” Wang said. “The crackdown on protesters only revealed Beijing’s deep fear of the power of the country’s young people.”</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 00:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Brazil: Restore Rule of Law in the Amazon Click to expand Image Trucks carrying illegally harvested logs exit the Terra Nossa settlement, September 30, 2019. © 2019 Fernando Martinho/Repórter Brasil <p>(São Paulo) – Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should adopt urgent measures to address the human rights crisis underpinning the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and restore the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>On January 26, 2023, Human Rights Watch published a multimedia report that details the impact of criminal groups involved in illegal land grabbing and logging inside Terra Nossa, a land-reform settlement intended for small-scale agriculture and sustainable collection of forest products in the state of Pará. The situation there shows the link between environmental destruction, violence, and poverty in many rural communities that depend on the sustainable use of the forest across the Amazon.</p> Rainforest Ashes <p class="promo__subtitle text-white text-xs py-4 font-serif ">A Small Brazilian Community Fights for Its Livelihood, and the Planet</p> Explore the multimedia feature here <p>“It is encouraging that President Lula has pledged a fundamental shift in Brazil’s policies after years of mounting environmental destruction,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “What we’re seeing in the Amazon is both an environmental crisis and a human rights crisis. The Lula administration should mobilize the government at all levels and coordinate with prosecutors to fight the criminal networks responsible for environmental destruction and deadly violence.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch presented its recommendations for better protection of the forest and its defenders, as well as the defense of human rights more generally, in meetings between January 23 and 25 in Brasília with the ministers of the environment, Marina Silva; of Indigenous people, Sônia Guajajara; of human rights, Sílvio Almeida; of agrarian development, Paulo Teixeira; and of racial equality, Anielle Franco; the head of Brazil’s main environmental agency, Rodrigo Agostinho; and high-level officials within the justice and foreign affairs ministries. In addition, Human Rights Watch met with the president of the Supreme Court, Rosa Weber; Supreme Court justice Carmen Lucia, and federal public defenders and prosecutors.</p> <p>Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, and other local communities have been risking their lives as they try to hold on to their land and protect the environment and their livelihoods. They are faced with an onslaught of criminal networks involved in illegal logging, land grabs, and mining, which deploy armed men to threaten and attack those who speak up to defend the forest.</p> <p>Community members believe those groups have killed at least four people for speaking up about the environmental crimes committed in Terra Nossa or threatening the interests of criminal groups there since 2018. A fifth man has been missing since 2018 and is believed dead.</p> <p>The multimedia report includes testimony from witnesses asserting that in 2022 criminals started fires within the settlement that ravaged vegetation, crops, and the forest reserve where residents collect Brazil nuts that they depend on to survive. The criminals’ objective was not just clearing the land for cattle ranching or soy plantations, but to intimidate residents, destroy their livelihoods, and force them to leave, Federal Prosecutor Gabriel Dalla Favera de Oliveira said.</p> <p>“They put pressure until you flee to save your life, and then they take over the land,” a resident told Human Rights Watch.</p> <p>Since at least 2016, the federal land-reform agency, INCRA, has been aware that outsiders were illegally taking over the land in Terra Nossa, according to internal documents reviewed by Human Rights Watch, but it has failed to take measures to remove them.</p> <p>These occurrences in Terra Nossa highlight the ways in which government inaction enables land seizure and environmental destruction, leading to violence, loss of livelihoods, and subsequent poverty.</p> <p>The Lula administration should develop a comprehensive plan to protect the Amazon and its residents, such as the small farmers in Terra Nossa who are trying to defend it, Human Rights Watch said. The administration should bring together federal agencies, including INCRA, federal and state police, the Attorney General’s Office, and state governors to draft a plan, in consultation with local communities, to prevent environmental crimes and violence, and ensure accountability when they happen, including by dismantling criminal networks in the Amazon.</p> <p>Such a plan should include enhancing the capacity of the agencies protecting the environment and Indigenous rights, as the Lula administration has already pledged, and institute safeguards and ongoing monitoring of the supply chain for gold, cattle, and other agricultural products to ensure they are not linked to deforestation.</p> <p>It should resume titling Indigenous territories; expel illegal land-grabbers, including from INCRA settlements like Terra Nossa; cancel fraudulent land titles; and support communities that live off the sustainable use of the forest.</p> <p>The Lula administration should also strengthen the national mechanism to protect human rights and environmental defenders and ensure that state-level programs have adequate funding, training, and institutional support.</p> <p>“Destroying the rainforest enriches a handful of criminals and makes many Brazilians poorer,” Canineu said. “Reducing deforestation and combating poverty and inequality go hand in hand in the Amazon. It is possible and urgent to do both.”</p> Thu, 26 Jan 2023 00:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Eswatini: Activist, Rights Lawyer Brutally Killed Click to expand Image Human Rights Lawyer and activist Thulani Maseko pictured giving an interview to Agence France-Presse on September 22, 2018, in Lobamba, eSwatini. Maseko was killed on January 21, 2022, at his home in Luhleko, Bhunya, eSwatini.  © 2018 GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images <p>(Johannesburg) – The authorities in Eswatini should allow for the establishment of an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation into the brutal killing of prominent human rights lawyer and opposition activist, Thulani Maseko, Human Rights Watch said today.</p> <p>On January 21, 2023, Maseko was fatally shot through the window at his home, where he sat with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 6, in Luhleko, Bhunya, 50 kilometers from the capital, Mbabane. Hours earlier, King Mswati III, during an address to his Traditional Regiments at Engabezweni Royal Residence in Matsapha, warned those calling for democratic reforms that mercenaries would deal with them. The king maintains that pro-democracy activists cause instability in the country. Human rights activists in the country have accused the government of having a hand in Maseko’s killing.</p> <p>“The brutal killing of Maseko is the latest in a series of chilling attacks on pro-democracy activists in Eswatini” said Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, deputy director in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “It is essential to promptly conduct an independent, thorough, and effective investigation capable of identifying those responsible.”</p> <p>Maseko was the chairperson of the pro-democracy Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF), a coalition of civil society groups and political parties leading the campaign for democracy in Eswatini.</p> <p>He championed democratic reforms, calling for meaningful dialogue, and interfacing with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics Defense and Security regarding a political crisis in Eswatini that began with protests in 2021, playing a key role in discussions about the country’s transitional political process.</p> <p>Maseko had a long history of activism, including representing the Swaziland National Ex-Miners Workers Association in their challenge of the government. The group contended that the government had not upheld the provisions of the 2005 Constitution, which stipulates that Swazi children would receive free primary education within three years after the constitution went into effect, which was confirmed by the High Court in 2009.</p> <p>In 2014, Maseko and Bhekithemba Makhubu, editor of the Nation magazine were convicted of contempt of court for comments they made in two articles published in the magazine, raising concerns about the country’s judicial system, including the lack of judicial independence and impartiality.</p> <p>In 2018, Maseko started judicial proceedings against the government for not consulting the public or engaging Parliament after King Mswati III unilaterally changed the name of the country from Swaziland to Eswatini.</p> <p>Maseko’s killing has heightened the sense of fear among human rights activists in the country. Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, a human rights lawyer and a colleague of Maseko told Human Rights Watch that: “To be frank, I don’t feel safe, and nobody does. From what I’ve got from many lawyers, especially those in the human rights space, people are contemplating running away from the country.”</p> <p>Most recently, on December 7, 2022, there was an assassination attempt against Maxwell Nkambule, the lawyer representing Swazi pro-democracy protesters who stand accused of arson attacks and killing police officers.</p> <p>The government expressed condolences for Maseko’s death, saying that “Maseko’s demise is a loss to the Nation and his footprints as a human rights lawyer are there as proof of his contribution to the country.” The government assured the public that the country’s security forces had already begun investigating the circumstances of the death and that his killers would be brought to book.</p> <p>In 2021, Eswatini was rocked by waves of protests amid a drastic deterioration in the human rights situation and lack of political reforms. The authorities responded by banning protests and deployed police and soldiers who shot at protesters indiscriminately with live ammunition.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch had found that in October 2021, Eswatini police fired live ammunition and teargas into a bus full of people traveling to the capital, Mbabane, to protest the incarceration of two pro-democracy members of parliament. Witnesses said that some of the bus passengers were injured and had to be hospitalized, the rest were turned back and prevented from going into the city centre.</p> <p>South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, then-chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation of the SADC, visited Eswatini at the end of 2021, leading to an agreement for a national dialogue forum as a step to resolve the political turmoil in the country. But the talks have yet to take place despite several attempts by SADC to initiate the same.</p> <p>The Eswatini authorities should establish an independent investigation into Maseko’s killing, as well as attacks against other pro-democracy activists since 2021, Human Rights Watch said.</p> <p>The SADC should step up to mediate the political crisis in Eswatini and support the establishment of the much-awaited national dialogue, Human Rights Watch said. The South African government should also open an investigation into allegations that South African mercenaries and private military are operating in Eswatini at the request of the king and whether they have links to the killings of pro-democracy activists, including Thulani Maseko.</p> <p>“Africa’s last absolute monarch needs to listen to and respond to the aspirations of the people of Eswatini, and their demands to exercise their democratic, political rights,” Budoo-Scholtz said. “The authorities need to immediately initiate a meaningful and all-inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogue, that includes the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, so that no more activists face harassment or are killed.”</p> Wed, 25 Jan 2023 16:29:08 -0500 Human Rights Watch Lebanon: Victims’ Families Despair as Blast Suspects Freed Click to expand Image Graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 11, 2020. © 2020 Hannah McKay/Reuters <p>(Beirut) – Lebanon’s general prosecutor on January 25, 2023, ordered the release of all suspects detained in connection with the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The unprecedented move amid rampant political interference bypasses the ongoing criminal investigation into the explosion.</p> <p>To help secure a path toward truth and justice for the victims, the United Nations Human Rights Council should urgently pass a resolution to create an impartial fact-finding mission into the Beirut port explosion.</p> <p>“Lebanon may be leaderless, but that doesn’t mean other countries cannot step up to lead on human rights for people in Lebanon,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The gross failure to provide justice to the victims of the Beirut port explosion will only further undermine stability and the rule of law at this critical juncture in Lebanon’s history.”</p> <p>Nearly two-and-a-half years on, the domestic investigation has stagnated with no progress in sight due to multiple legal challenges from the politicians charged in the case aiming to replace the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar.</p> <p>On January 23, Judge Bitar took steps to overcome the stalled investigation. Relying on a legal analysis, he said that the rules governing the dismissal of judges outlined under article 357 of Law 328 did not apply to his role and that attempts to dismiss him amounted to a breach of the constitutional principle of separation of powers.</p> <p>In resuming his work, he ordered the release of five suspects detained between August 2020 and September 2021 and charged others. He summoned Ghassan Oweidat, the general prosecutor; Abbas Ibrahim, director general of general security; Tony Saliba, director general of state security; Jean Kahwaji, the former army chief; Jawdat Oweidat and Kamil Daher, former intelligence officers; Asaad Tufayli, head of the Higher Customs Council; Gracia Al-Azzi, a Higher Customs Council member; and judges Ghassan Khoury, Carla Shawah, and Jad Maalouf for interrogation.</p> <p>In response, Judge Oweidat, whom Judge Bitar had charged, indicated that law enforcement agencies would not execute Bitar’s orders, considering them “null.” The justice minister sent Judge Bitar’s legal analysis to the Higher Judicial Council for review, alleging it may impact the “secrecy of the investigation.”</p> <p>Judge Oweidat then ordered the release of all of the detainees in the Beirut blast case, noting that the investigation has been stalled for over a year, and citing the right to a speedy trial under international law. Bitar told local Lebanese media that “security forces’ enforcement of the state prosecutor’s order to release the detainees will be a coup against the law.” Hours after the general prosecutor’s order, security forces began releasing the 17 detainees held in connection to the blast.</p> <p>The General Prosecutor also charged Judge Bitar with several crimes, including “usurping power,” imposed a travel ban on him, and summoned him for questioning on January 26.</p> <p>The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly obstructed the domestic investigation into the explosion by shielding politicians and officials implicated in the explosion from questioning, prosecution, and arrest. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Legal Action Worldwide, Legal Agenda, and the International Commission of Jurists have documented a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation, including flagrant political interference, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for the fair trial standards, and due process violations.</p> <p>The politicians suspected in the case have filed over 25 requests to dismiss Judge Bitar, and other judges involved in the case, causing the inquiry to be repeatedly suspended while the cases are adjudicated. The latest series of legal challenges filed against Judge Bitar resulted in the suspension of the investigation on December 23, 2021.</p> <p>The Human Rights Council should pass a resolution that would establish and dispatch, without delay, an independent and impartial fact-finding mission for the Beirut explosion. The mission should establish the facts and circumstances, including the root causes, of the explosion, with a view to establishing state and individual responsibility and supporting justice and reparations for the victims.</p> <p>The explosion at Beirut’s port was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in global history. The explosion sent shock waves through the city, killing at least 220 people, wounding over 7,000, and causing extensive property damage. An in-depth investigation by Human Rights Watch points to the potential involvement of foreign-owned companies, as well as senior political and security officials in Lebanon.</p> <p>The Beirut explosion was a tragedy of historic proportions, arising from the failure to protect the fundamental right to life.</p> <p>“We are in shock,” Mireille Khoury, mother of Elias Khoury, who was killed by the explosion at the age of 15, told the organizations. “In what state are we living? All this proves that the international investigation is our only hope and that the HRC [Human Rights Council] is our main route. When will the leaders of the world open their eyes to this horrendous injustice against us?”</p> <p>It is now clearer than ever that the domestic investigation will not be allowed to progress and cannot deliver justice, making the establishment of an international fact-finding mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council all the more urgent, the organizations said.</p> <p>The survivors of the explosion and the families of the victims have previously sent two letters to the member and observer states of the Human Rights Council urging them to support a resolution establishing an international investigation. They sent another letter to the high commissioner for human rights in March 2022.</p> <p>More than 162 Lebanese and international rights groups, survivors, and families of the victims have called on the Human Rights Council members to put forward such a resolution. Dozens of Lebanese parliament members and three political parties have supported calls from victims’ families and civil society for an investigation.</p> <p>“The Lebanese authorities have run roughshod over the law, shamelessly bypassing an ongoing criminal investigation and retaliating against a judge who was just doing his job,” said Aya Majzoub, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. “It is patently clear that the Lebanese authorities are determined to obstruct justice. Since the explosion, they have repeatedly blocked the domestic investigation, shielding themselves from accountability at the expense of the victims’ rights to truth, justice, and redress.”</p> Wed, 25 Jan 2023 14:00:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch Biden's Empty Call to Reevaluate US-Saudi Relationship Click to expand Image US President Joe Biden, center left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, center, at a hotel in Saudi Arabia’s city of Jeddah, July 16, 2022.  © 2022 Mandel Ngan/AP Photo <p>Following Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut oil production in October, United States President Joe Biden announced there would be consequences for the Saudi government and a need to reevaluate the US-Saudi relationship. But three months later, that relationship seems unchanged.</p> <p>Biden’s unwillingness to genuinely reassess the relationship applies to US human rights policy toward Saudi Arabia as well. In December, Biden opposed a resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders to ban US logistical support for airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, many of which have resulted in apparent war crimes.</p> <p>On the campaign trail, Biden had vowed to pursue accountability for the murder of journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi. Despite promises to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” in September 2021 he chose not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and in July 2022 he traveled to Jeddah to meet with the crown prince, who, according to US intelligence, was responsible for approving Khashoggi’s murder. Since that disastrous visit, Human Rights Watch has documented a notable uptick in repression, including decades-long prison sentences for citizens sharing opinions on social media.</p> <p>Last September, Biden repeated his promise that “human rights will be at the center of [US] foreign policy.” That has not been the case when it comes to Saudi Arabia. A reevaluation of US interests in Saudi Arabia should include action against the government’s escalating repression and complete suppression of public criticism.</p> <p>Even with Saudi Arabia cutting – rather than increasing – oil production, Biden's decision not to follow through with a re-think about the US-Saudi relationship reveals the US government’s perceived dependence on Saudi Arabia. This has the effect of weakening Biden’s leverage on human rights. But it’s more urgent than ever that the administration take a strong stand on human rights in Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>What would a more human rights-focused foreign policy look like in the Saudi case? The US currently sells more military equipment to Saudi Arabia than to any other country. Instead of turning a blind eye to Saudi’s abuses against its own population, as well as alleged war crimes it committed in Yemen, the US should halt those sales until there are clear human rights improvements. Doing so would put Biden’s broader foreign policy toward Saudi back on credible footing.</p> Tue, 24 Jan 2023 14:10:20 -0500 Human Rights Watch Russia Designates Another Rights Organization as ‘Undesirable’ Click to expand Image Tanya Lokshina, Europe and Central Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch, with Sergey Lukashevsky, director of Moscow's Sakharov Center, at the Andrei Sakharov Anniversary Conference in May 2021. © 2021 Andrew Rushailo-Arno <p>Yesterday, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office designated the Andrei Sakharov Foundation as “undesirable.” The foundation was created in 1989 by Sakharov’s widow, Elena Bonner, and his American supporters to safeguard and promote the legacy of the genius physicist. Sakharov created the first Soviet hydrogen bomb and then fought for disarmament, received the 1975 Nobel Prize for Peace, and became a leader of the USSR’s human rights movement.</p> <p>By labeling the foundation "undesirable," the Kremlin is also ostracizing Sakharov’s legacy and, essentially, all the human rights defenders, independent journalists, activists, pro-democracy scientists, and cultural figures associated with it in Russia. Sakharov’s powerful “peace, progress, and human rights” motto is seemingly forgotten, as Russia fights a full-scale war against Ukraine, fraught with indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings , enforced disappearances, torture of countless civilians, and other apparent war crimes.</p> <p>In May 2021, I chaired a panel at a conference to commemorate Sakharov’s 100th birthday, organized by the Sakharov Center, a Moscow-based sister organization of the now-banned American Sakharov Foundation. Dozens of attendees met in Moscow and for many, it was the first such gathering in over a year following the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other international speakers could not attend in person due to ongoing travel restrictions at the time. At the end of the panel, which focused on human rights protection globally, the Sakharov Center director and I expressed genuine hope that we would see them in Russia in person the following year. Little did we know that by spring 2022, with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine underway, our world would crumble and the idea of holding a human rights event in Moscow would seem ludicrous.</p> <p>Now, Sakharov Center in Moscow is on the verge of being shut down. Authorities are also closing the Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest Russian human rights group. Last year the government “liquidated” Memorial, the country’s leading human rights organization, of which Sakharov himself was a founder. Last year, the government also closed Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office, which had operated in the country for three decades. Many people who attended the May 2021 anniversary conference, including myself, were forced to leave the country, as the authorities doubled down on political prosecutions, aiming to eviscerate all forms of dissent.</p> <p>But Sakharov’s legacy lives on – and there will come a time when we gather in Moscow again, under his portrait.</p> Tue, 24 Jan 2023 13:40:22 -0500 Human Rights Watch Guatemala: Threats to Free, Fair Elections Click to expand Image Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal opened nominations for the 2023 general elections in Guatemala City, Guatemala, January 20, 2023. © 2023 Josue Decavele/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images <p>(Washington, DC) - International scrutiny is essential to ensure Guatemalans’ rights to free and fair elections, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said today in releasing a joint question and answer document exploring the main challenges to human rights to the country’s electoral process.</p> <p>On January 20, 2023, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE), the highest authority in electoral matters in Guatemala, called for candidate nominations, officially beginning the electoral period. Guatemalans will go to polls on June 25 to elect a new president, 160 lawmakers, and over 300 mayors. If no presidential candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff election will take place in late August.</p> <p>“This year’s elections are a critical test for Guatemala’s fragile democracy,” said Juan Pappier, Americas acting deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “They will take place in a context of deterioration of the rule of law, where the institutions charged with overseeing the elections have little independence or credibility.”</p> <p>Independent institutions play a key role in ensuring free and fair elections, the groups said. They should act as a check on attempts to make the playing field uneven. This includes, among others, by impeding arbitrary disqualifications or prosecutions of political opponents, preventing the partisan use of state resources in campaigns, investigating unlawful campaign financing, and guaranteeing the respect for the rule of law.</p> <p>Key institutions such as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Comptroller General, and the Attorney General’s Office should guarantee Guatemalan citizens their political rights and protect the electoral process’ legitimacy, Human Rights Watch and WOLA said. Many members of these bodies have been appointed through processes that were not fair, transparent, or independent, and have shown open disregard for the rule of law.</p> <p>In recent years, the authorities in Guatemala have undermined the separation of powers and human rights safeguards in an effort to ensure impunity for widespread high-level corruption. The Attorney General’s Office has also pursued spurious criminal charges against independent journalists, prosecutors, and judges who have investigated and exposed corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power.</p> <p>Given the progressive deterioration of the rule of law in Guatemala, international scrutiny is key to protecting the country’s democracy and Guatemalans’ right to vote and run for public office, Human Rights Watch and WOLA said.</p> <p>Concerned governments, including the United States and in Europe and Latin America, should monitor the electoral process closely and call for free and fair elections. They should also impose targeted sanctions against businesspeople and government officials who undermine the rule of law to press them to end their abuses, the groups said.</p> <p>In January 2023, the European Union conducted an “exploratory electoral mission” in the country. In October 2022, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, expressed his interest in sending electoral observers to Guatemala. The authorities have not yet announced whether OAS observers will be allowed to monitor the elections.</p> <p>Observers should closely monitor allegations of unlawful financing of political campaigns, including by businesspeople and organized crime. Investigations by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – shuttered by the administration of former President Jimmy Morales in 2019 – exposed how unlawful campaign financing opens the door to corruption and helps “distort Guatemala’s democratic model,” the commission said.</p> <p>“Electoral observers should begin their work as soon as possible and make sure that their analysis goes well-beyond the developments of election day,” said Ana María Méndez-Dardón, Director for Central America at WOLA. “In particular, they should carefully analyze any attempts to bar opposition candidates, initiate arbitrary criminal proceedings against them, or other efforts to make the playing field uneven.”</p> Tue, 24 Jan 2023 09:45:00 -0500 Human Rights Watch