IHRP external news feeds

Senegal/Chad: Court Upholds Habré Conviction

Human Rights Watch - 10 hours 1 min ago

(Nairobi) – The decision on April 27, 2017, by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal to uphold the conviction of former Chadian President Hissène Habré vindicates the persistence of the victims’ struggle for justice and the fight against impunity in Africa, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 30, 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system convicted Habré and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad.

“For over 26 years, the many victims of Hissène Habré’s crimes fought courageously for justice to be done,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, their journey ends with the conviction of a once untouchable leader confirmed and his life sentenced upheld, giving hope to victims everywhere.”

Habré’s trial, which began on July 20, 2015, was the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first case on the principle of universal jurisdiction to proceed to trial in Africa. The principle allows countries to try a small number of very grave crimes in their domestic courts – regardless of where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the victims.

Habré fled to Senegal in 1990 after being deposed by the current Chadian president, Idriss Déby Itno. Although Habré was first arrested and indicted in Senegal in 2000, it took a long campaign by his victims before the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in February 2013 to prosecute international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s rule.

Habré’s one-party rule was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethnic cleansing. Files from Habré’s political police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS), which were recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented the Habré government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Together with Chadian victims’ groups and rights activists, Human Rights Watch worked for over 15 years to advance justice for these crimes. The African Extraordinary Chamber’s decision on April 27 marks the culmination of these efforts.

Hong Kong: Surge in Political Prosecutions

Human Rights Watch - 11 hours 19 min ago

(New York, April 28, 2017) – The Hong Kong authorities’ arrest of 11 pro-democracy advocates over two days raises grave concerns of a politically motivated crackdown, Human Rights Watch said today. While all have been released on bail, they face prosecution and possible prison sentences.

The authorities should drop all charges based on the advocates’ roles in peaceful protests or other politically motivated grounds, Human Rights Watch said. Hong Kong authorities have prosecuted at least 18 pro-democracy political leaders in the territory since the end of the massive Umbrella Movement in December 2014.


Disqualified lawmakers Yau Wai-ching, 25, (L) and Baggio Leung, 30, pose outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, China on March 28, 2017. The two were arrested on April 26, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

“Prosecution as persecution seems to be the new norm for the treatment of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Hong Kong authorities’ abuse of the law to intimidate dissent increasingly resembles tactics employed just across the border.”

On April 26, 2017, the authorities arrested Yau Wai-qing and Baggio Leung Chung-hang, two pro-independence activists and former legislators, on charges of “unlawful assembly” and “attempted forced entry.” The charges stem from the pair’s attempt to attend a Legislative Council meeting on November 2, 2016, after they were barred from meetings pending a judicial review of their council membership.

Nine more activists were arrested the next day, April 27, 2017, and charged with participating in unlawful assembly, obstructing police, and inciting disorderly conduct in a public place. The charges stem from a November 6, 2016 protest against a decision by China’s top legislative body that forced Hong Kong courts to disqualify Yau and Leung. The nine include:

  • Avery Ng Man-yuen, chairman of the League of Social Democrats;
  • Derek Lam Shun-hin and Ivan Lam Long-yin of the Demosisto Party;
  • Dickson Chau Ka-faat and Chan Man-wai of the League of Social Democrats;
  • Sammy Ip and Lo Tak-cheong of the group Student Fight for Democracy;
  • Cheng Pui-lun, former president of Lingnan University’s student union; and
  • Chow Shu-wing, People Power.

The organizers of the November protest, which thousands of people attended, had obtained a permit. But police accused some demonstrators of participating in an “unlawful assembly” when they took an unapproved route toward the central government’s Liaison Office, a crime under the Public Order Ordinance. Police then ordered the protesters to disperse.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has criticized Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance for possibly “facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions” to basic rights. The law, which requires that people planning processions involving more than 30 people and assemblies with more than 50 must apply for and receive a “letter of no objection” from the government in advance, is incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the ordinance to be brought into conformity with international human rights standards.

The crimes of obstructing police and forced entry carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison, while the crimes of unlawful assembly and inciting disorderly conduct in a public place carry up to five years in prison.

Since the culmination of the Umbrella Movement protests in December 2014, about 18 Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders have faced court proceedings, most of them for participating or leading peaceful protests including the Umbrella Movement. They face a range of charges, including unlawful assembly, inciting unlawful assembly, inciting public nuisance, conspiracy, obstructing the police, and assaulting a police officer.

In addition to Yao Wai-qing and Baggio Leung, four other pro-democracy legislators face disqualifications due to lawsuits filed by the Hong Kong government on the basis of the November 2016 ruling of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the qualifications of Legislative Council members. The four include Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, and Leung Kwok-hung.

The arrests are a break with Hong Kong’s longstanding tradition of tolerating peaceful expression and demonstrations. And they are particularly alarming in light of central government advisers’ statements in March that Beijing would use more “legal means” to strengthen control over  Hong Kong, particularly over “principle issues” such as national security, Human Rights Watch said.

Pro-democracy activists have announced that they are going to stage “a large civil disobedience protest” on July 1, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover by Britain to Chinese sovereignty. China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the territory for that occasion, his first trip to Hong Kong since he assumed formal power in 2013.

“As the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover approaches, the territory’s autonomy looks increasingly fragile,” Richardson said. “Hong Kong authorities can take a major step toward reclaiming the mantle of democracy and rule of law by dropping all charges against peaceful protest.”

Congratulations, thanks to International Law Reporter

Opinio Juris - 12 hours 2 min ago
by Edward Swaine

by Edward Swaine Most readers are probably keenly familiar with International Law Reporter, the brainchild of Professor Jacob Katz Cogan (Cincinnati).  For those not aware, ILR provides notices of scholarship, conferences, calls for papers, and the like — and it’s available in RSS feeds and via Twitter.  (There’s even a tip jar!)  It’s invaluable for […]

India: ‘Cow Protection’ Spurs Vigilante Violence

Human Rights Watch - 12 hours 33 min ago

(New York) – Indian authorities should promptly investigate and prosecute self-appointed “cow protectors” who have committed brutal attacks against Muslims and Dalits over rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef, Human Rights Watch said today. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the vigilantes, many linked to extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the police, too often, have filed complaints against the assault victims, their relatives, and associates under laws banning cow slaughter.


Screen shot from an unverified video posted on social media showing a Hindu mob brutally assaulting members of a nomad cattle-herding family accused of taking their cows for slaughter, Jammu, India, April 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Anonymous

Many Hindus consider the cow to be a holy animal, and slaughter is forbidden in most parts of Hindu-majority India. Since May 2015, a violent vigilante campaign against beef consumption has led to the killing of at least 10 Muslims, including a 12-year-old boy, in seven separate incidents of mob violence. In July 2016, in Gujarat, vigilantes stripped four Dalit men, tied them to a car, and beat them with sticks and belts over suspicions of cow slaughter. In a number of cases, the attackers have also robbed their victims of cash and cellphones, and damaged their property.

“Self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ driven by irresponsible populism are killing people and terrorizing minority communities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The government should condemn this violence and take prompt action against those responsible for these attacks or face allegations of complicity.”

In one recent case, on April 21, 2017, in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir state, a mob brutally attacked five members of a nomad cattle-herding family, including a 9-year-old girl, on suspicion that they were taking their cows for slaughter. A video posted on social media showed a group of men chanting slogans commonly used by BJP supporters, breaking down the family’s shelter, beating an elderly man with rods and sticks even as women begged for mercy, and finally setting the shelter on fire. Several policemen can be seen in the video while the mob carries out the attack, but they appeared to be outnumbered and stay back when the mob pushes them back. Police have arrested 11 people for the assault.

On April 22, in New Delhi, purported animal rights activists allegedly belonging to People for Animals, which is led by a BJP official, beat up three men in a truck for transporting buffaloes. Initially, the police failed to arrest anyone for the assault or investigate the role of People for Animals, which denied involvement in the attack. Instead, the police arrested the three victims under a law preventing cruelty to animals after the injured victims were taken to a hospital. The men were released on bail a day later. Two days after the incident, the police arrested a Delhi resident who claimed to be a member of People for Animals. The police were informed of the incident by another member of People for Animals who was allegedly part of a “raid team” that regularly stops vehicles to see whether they contain cattle. People for Animals, which started as an animal rights group, said that since 2014 it has shut down some of its city units, including in Delhi, due to allegations of vigilantism and extortion against its members.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat state and during the 2014 national election campaign, repeatedly called for the protection of cows, raising the specter of a “pink revolution” by the previous government that he claimed had endangered cows and other cattle to export meat. BJP leaders have attempted to portray the majority Hindu population as victims, whipping up fear of Muslim men who they say kidnap, rape, or lure Hindu women into relationships as part of a plot to make India into a Muslim-majority country. In the period leading up to the Uttar Pradesh state elections in 2017, a BJP lawmaker, Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister, raised fears of a Hindu exodus in western Uttar Pradesh, which has the largest concentration of Muslims in the state.

The government should condemn this violence and take prompt action against those responsible for these attacks or face allegations of complicity. Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Since the BJP came to power in May 2014, extremist Hindu groups supporting Modi and his party have led vigilante mob attacks across the country to enforce “nationalism.” Senior BJP leaders, including elected officials and leaders of various groups who claim to promote Hindu rights, have instigated hate crimes. Self-appointed cow protectors are increasingly conducting raids and attacks, claiming the police don’t take adequate action against those slaughtering cows. There have been numerous incidents in which they have allegedly assaulted, harassed, threatened, and extorted money from Muslims and Dalits. Dalits, so-called “untouchables,” are equally vulnerable as they traditionally carry out jobs to dispose of cattle carcasses and skin them for commercial purposes.

Among the largest cow protection networks is the Bharatiya Gau Raksha Dal (“India Cow Protection Group”), an umbrella organization registered in 2012. Its leader, Pawan Pandit, told Human Rights Watch that the network is affiliated with about 50 groups across the country and that their 10,000 volunteers have a presence in nearly every state. “Now the entire India is a cow protection group because people are angered by such cruelty to animals,” Pandit said, adding that even the BJP government was not strong enough on cow protection. He denied allegations of violence by his members, saying those were spontaneous acts by local residents angered by the ill-treatment and slaughter of cows.

“The mild admonitions from BJP leaders when Muslims and Dalits are lynched over cows sends a message that the BJP supports this violence,” Ganguly said. “Instead of a government that took office on the promise of universal development, it now appears to be one unwilling to protect those most vulnerable.”


Members of a “cow protection” group try to take the cows from the back of a truck that the group stopped on November 8, 2015, in Ramgarh, Rajasthan state, India. 

© 2015 Getty Images/Allison Joyce

Recent ‘Cow Protection’ Cases and Concerns

Government Silence and Denial

On April 1, 2017, a mob in the northwestern state of Rajasthan brutally assaulted a 55-year-old dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, and four others with sticks and belts. Khan died two days later from his injuries. Three of the six accused have been arrested. The state’s BJP-led government did not condemn the killing, and its minister for parliamentary affairs denied that the attack occurred. Rajasthan’s home minister sought to defend the so-called cow protectors by blaming the victims: “People know cow trafficking is illegal, but they do it. Gau bhakts [Cow worshippers] try to stop them. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s a crime to take the law in their hands.”

Instead of filing a complaint against the attackers, the police first registered a complaint against Khan and the other victims under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, for exporting cattle and showing cruelty to the animals, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The police waited two hours before filing a complaint against the unidentified mob. Khan’s son alleged that the police filed the case against the family even though they had receipts showing that they purchased the cattle legitimately in Rajasthan. Mohammed Yusuf, the brother of one of those injured in the attack, told Human Rights Watch that the attackers also stole 35,000 rupees (US$540) his brother was carrying, his cellphone, and three cows worth 75,000 rupees (US$1,150). He no longer wants to be part of the dairy business. “We have decided that we are not going to have anything more to do with cattle,” he said. “If we can’t keep milk cows, if we now need permission to drink milk, why should we keep cows?”

On April 23, several former civil service officers wrote to the state’s chief minister demanding that all the accused members of the mob be immediately arrested, saying that failure to take prompt action would be a “mockery of good governance, causing minorities to lose faith in the government’s ability to protect their rights.” Two days later, the chief minister finally broke her silence and said, “such activities won’t be tolerated in Rajasthan.”

States Prompting Cow Protections

Even as BJP leaders failed to condemn attacks on Muslims and other minorities, they have announced new policies for cow welfare and made strong statements about the need to protect cows. Their policies and statements have facilitated abuses by cow protection groups in BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.

In March 2017, the Gujarat government made slaughtering a cow punishable by life in prison. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP chief minister said, “We will hang those who kill cows.” In 2016, the Haryana government decided to give licenses to some cow protection groups to help the police keep a check on alleged cow smuggling. Group members are often seen patrolling the streets, especially highways, at night, stopping vehicles, checking them for cattle, intimidating drivers, and reacting with violence if they find cows. These vigilantes have also physically assaulted legitimate cattle transporters even when they are transporting other animals, such as buffaloes.

There have been reports in the media of cow protectors allegedly assaulting Muslim men and women in trains and railway stations in Madhya Pradesh, stripping and beating Dalit men in Gujarat, force feeding cow dung and urine to two men in Haryana, raiding a Muslim hotel in Jaipur, aiding police in checking roadside food stalls and restaurants for beef in Haryana ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid, and an alleged gang rape and murder in Haryana of people the attackers claimed were eating beef at home.

The Haryana government has set up a 24-hour helpline for citizens to report cow slaughter and smuggling and appointed police task forces to respond to the complaints. Rajasthan’s government has had a dedicated department for ensuring the welfare of cows since 2013. In April 2017, the state government imposed additional taxes for “conservation and propagation of cow and its progeny.”

Soon after the BJP appointed Adityanath, a Hindu cleric, as chief minister of India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh in March, he cracked down on slaughterhouses and meat shops, mostly run by Muslims. He contended that he was shutting down illegal establishments, but the businesses said they were forced to close without notice or due process. Cow protectors and members of an extremist Hindu group, Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by Adityanath in 2002, aided the police in some of these operations.

Several members of the group, including Adityanath, face criminal charges for inciting violence, attempt to murder, rioting, carrying deadly weapons, and promoting enmity between two religious groups. The group has used violence, threats, and intimidation to shut down meat businesses, news reports say. But the state’s deputy chief minister and BJP state party president told Reuters that members of Adityanath’s organization were acting as responsible citizens and rejected allegations that they were acting “as a parallel administration.”

The authorities have largely ignored the young men roaming streets and beating up Muslims and Dalits in the name of protecting cows, and have targeted instead the peaceful critics of such actions. At least seven people – including a poet, a filmmaker, and a student – have been booked on criminal charges for criticizing Adityanath on social media. The charges range from hurting the religious sentiments of a community to promoting enmity between groups.

On April 22, members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, groups affiliated with the BJP, attacked two police stations in Uttar Pradesh to protest the arrest of their colleagues for allegedly beating up and robbing a Muslim man. The police said that the men, from Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, threw stones at the police stations, beat up a policeman, set fire to his motorcycle, and took his service revolver. A senior police officer told the media that men from Hindu Yuva Vahini were also part of the mob that attacked the stations.

Inadequate Response to Killings over Cows

Prior to Pehlu Khan’s murder on April 1, at least nine other people were fatally beaten or lynched by Hindu mobs over suspicions that they were trading or killing cows for beef.

Rajasthan, May 2015

Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi, 60, who ran a meat shop in Birloka village in Nagaur district, was beaten brutally by a mob with sticks and iron rods on May 30, 2015. He died the following day. The mob also vandalized his home and shop. Two years after the incident, the police have filed murder charges against three accused in the attack, while six are yet to be arrested. The case is pending in court.

Uttar Pradesh, August 2015

A mob beat to death three men suspected of being cattle thieves – Anaf, Arif, and Nazim – in the Kaimrala village of Dadri town on August 2, 2015. The mob also set their truck on fire after they found two buffaloes in it. A farmer who witnessed the incident told Frontline magazine that the police arrived after the men were already dead. He said, “When a cow is killed, passions get ignited and these things can happen.”

The police filed a case against the dead men for theft, trespass, and attempted murder, alleging that they opened fire first. The superintendent of police did not respond to questions from Human Rights Watch about whether there was any case against the villagers for killing the men.

Uttar Pradesh, September 2015

On September 28, 2015, a mob in Bishara village in Dadri town beat to death Mohammad Akhlaq, 50, with bricks and critically injured his 22-year-old son. The attack came after an announcement at a nearby Hindu temple that Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf. The police arrested six people but also seized the meat from Akhlaq’s home and sent it for a forensic exam to determine whether it was beef. The villagers protested the arrests by damaging vehicles, including a police van, and setting a motorcycle on fire.

The Uttar Pradesh government, then led by the Samajwadi party, announced compensation of 10 lakh rupees (US$15,500) to Akhlaq’s family and the chief minister ordered district officials and police to provide full protection to his family. However, a senior BJP leader and minister in the central government called Akhlaq’s killing an “accident.”

Another BJP legislator from the state, Sangeet Som, already facing charges for allegedly inciting communal riots, visited Dadri following Akhlaq’s killing to show solidarity with the accused, one of whom is the son of a local BJP leader. Som did not condemn Akhlaq’s murder and instead criticized the state government for not taking legal action against Akhlaq’s family. In Haryana, the neighboring state, the chief minister, from BJP, called Akhlaq’s killing a “simple misunderstanding” and said, “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef.”

In December 2015, the Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against 18 people. Nearly a score of hearings have been held since then, but there has been little progress in the case. Meanwhile, Akhlaq’s family relocated to Delhi because of concerns for their safety.

Jammu and Kashmir, October 2015

On October 9, 2015, a right-wing Hindu mob in Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir allegedly threw gasoline bombs at a truck driven by Zahid Bhat, an 18-year-old trucker, because they suspected him – wrongly – of transporting beef. He died of his injuries at a hospital 10 days later. Two others traveling with him were also injured. Bhat was found to be transporting coal in his truck.

His death led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces in a south Kashmir village where he had lived. The state’s chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the People’s Democratic Party, condemned the killing and announced compensation but the family refused to accept any money, saying they wanted justice.

Five people were arrested for murder, rioting, conspiracy, and use of explosives.

Himachal Pradesh, October 2015

A Hindu mob at Sarahan, a village near Simla, allegedly beat to death Noman, 22, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, on October 14, 2015, over suspicions that he was smuggling cows. The mob also beat up four other occupants of the truck. Police immediately arrested the four occupants, booking them under laws banning cow slaughter and preventing cruelty to animals.

Later, police also registered a case of murder and said they would investigate whether members of Hindu militant group Bajrang Dal were behind the attack.

Jharkhand, March 2016

A Muslim cattle trader, Mohammed Mazlum Ansari, 35, and a 12-year-old boy, Mohammed Imteyaz Khan, were found hanging from a tree in Jharkhand on March 18, 2016. Their hands were tied behind their backs and their bodies bore signs of mistreatment. The police arrested eight men, including a couple linked to a local cow protection group. The case is still pending in court.

Ansari’s brother, who runs a small shop in the village, told Human Rights Watch he had already spent 200,000 rupees (US$3,100) on the case and was determined to see it to the end but was not hopeful. “I don’t think we will receive justice,” he said. “The government is theirs. They are rich, they are powerful, the police is also theirs.”


US: Policy Failures Drive Preventable Overdose Deaths

Human Rights Watch - 12 hours 38 min ago
(Miami, Florida) – The US federal and state governments are taking insufficient action to ensure access to the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse opioid overdose, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.   The 48-page report, “A Second Chance: Overdose Prevention, Naloxone, and Human Rights in the United States,” identifies federal and state laws and policies that are keeping naloxone out of the hands of people most likely to witness accidental overdoses, denying them the ability to save lives. The report was released at a press conference held at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine’s IDEA Exchange Center, Florida’s first and only syringe distribution program. The center provides vital health services, including naloxone, in a city and county with high rates of opioid use and overdose.   The Trump administration has vowed to end the opioid epidemic and has released funds to states to fight the epidemic. These funds were appropriated last year under the 21st Century Cures Act and include monies targeted to reduce overdose deaths.   “The easiest, most effective step that the federal and state governments can take to stem the tide of deaths from opioid overdoses is to make naloxone easier to get,” said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Naloxone should be as easy to get as Tylenol. Criminal laws block access to harm reduction programs such as syringe exchanges; the price of the medication is too high; it is not available over the counter – these and other obstacles are keeping naloxone out of the hands of those who need it the most.”

The US federal and state governments are taking insufficient action to ensure access to the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse opioid overdose, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths.

In 2016, more than 33,000 people died from accidental drug overdoses involving opioids such as prescription pain medications, heroin, and fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid. The US Centers for Disease Control have called these deaths an “epidemic.” Since 2000, drug overdose deaths have increased 137 percent, with deaths involving opioids increasing 200 percent during that period. The toll is highest in rural America, where rates of death from opioid overdose are far higher than in metropolitan areas.

April 27, 2017 Report A Second Chance

Overdose Prevention, Naloxone, and Human Rights in the United States

Overdoses involving opioids can be effectively reversed if the medication naloxone is administered shortly after it occurs. Naloxone, a safe and generic medication, can be administered by non-medical personnel with minimal training. Between 2010 and 2014, at least 30,000 overdoses were reversed with the medication, in most cases by people who use drugs themselves who were at the scene. However, naloxone is only effective if someone who witnesses the overdose administers it or immediately calls emergency services.

Human Rights Watch documented the cases of Michelle Hamby, 49, a mother from Arizona, and Kendra Williams, 23, a nursing student from North Carolina, which show how naloxone access can be the difference between death and a second chance at life.

Michelle, who has lost two children to heroin overdose, found her daughter Breana passed out on the bathroom floor. She called paramedics, but they did not arrive for more than 10 minutes, and by then it was too late. Michelle believes that if she had naloxone available she might have saved Breana’s life.


Kendra Williams, 23, struggled with a heroin addiction since she was 15, but stopped after her son  (pictured) was born. Kendra is now training to be a nurse and volunteers with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. Wilmington, North Carolina, 2017.

© 2017 Private

Kendra was, in her words, “a full-blown addict” by age 15. Naloxone saved her life after an overdose, and she now is off heroin, in school, and is raising a child with her fiancé. Kendra and Michelle both volunteer at local groups that provide naloxone to people who use drugs along with clean needles, health care information, and testing for HIV and hepatitis C.

The report documents numerous obstacles to accessing naloxone, including the absence of “good Samaritan” laws; laws barring or limiting syringe exchange and harm reduction programs that offer naloxone; and high prices for the medication.

People witnessing an overdose are often reluctant to call 911 due to fear of prosecution under state drug laws. “Good Samaritan” laws protect people who call emergency services to the scene of an overdose from prosecution, but 14 states don’t have them, leaving people risking arrest for saving someone’s life.

Police are often the first to respond to an overdose incident, especially in rural areas. More than 1,200 police departments now carry naloxone, but that is still a small fraction of agencies in the US. Federal leadership is needed to promote proven, public health approaches to the opioid crisis, but signs that the Department of Justice intends to toughen drug law enforcement and sentencing raise concerns that people who use drugs will be driven underground and away from health and harm reduction services that can save their lives.

“More police need to be trained and equipped to reverse overdoses with naloxone,” said McLemore, “but a return to the ‘war on drugs’ will result in fewer calls to 911, and lives will be lost."

A review of state laws regarding access to naloxone and syringe exchange contrasts states such as North Carolina, where widespread access to naloxone has resulted in 6,000 overdose reversals since 2013, and Kansas, a state with no “good Samaritan” laws or other laws designed to increase access to naloxone, and where syringe exchange is prohibited under criminal laws. Nearly 1,000 people died of overdose in Kansas between 2013 and 2015.

Syringe exchanges are explicitly authorized in only 21 states and the District of Columbia. In other states, drug paraphernalia and possession laws restrict the operation of syringe exchanges despite decades of evidence that these programs do not increase drug use or crime but instead serve as gateways to treatment for drug dependence and reduce transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases. Rural areas in states such as West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, where the opioid crisis is most acute, have a particular shortage of syringe exchanges, which are a primary site for delivery of naloxone to people who use drugs.

Programs such as the IDEA Exchange at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida deliver a range of health services, referrals to treatment, and screening for infectious disease. Between 2013 and 2015, 8,336 Floridians died of drug overdose, and there appears to be no end in sight. In 2015, the rate of death from overdose in Florida rose 22 percent, one of the highest increases in the nation. Named after the state’s Infectious Disease Elimination Act, the IDEA Exchange opened in December 2016 and in a few short months has provided services for more than 200 clients; removed 20,000 dirty needles from the streets in exchange for clean ones; conducted nearly 200 tests for HIV and Hepatitis C; and connected more than 20 people to drug treatment programs. In March of this year, the IDEA Exchange began distributing naloxone. Yet it is the only public syringe exchange in the state, as criminal laws in Florida impede expansion of these vital programs.

Naloxone prices have increased dramatically in the past decade, creating another barrier for individuals, community groups, and public health and law enforcement agencies to distribute the medication. Naloxone could be bought for under US$1 in 2005 but now ranges in cost from US$20 to US$4,500, depending on the form, dose, and manufacturer.

Naloxone is covered by many insurance plans, including Medicaid, but experts say that giving it “over-the-counter” status would be a game-changer for people dependent on opioids. With its 30-year track record of safety and efficacy, the US Food and Drug Administration should work with drug manufacturers to promote the transition and make naloxone available in vending machines, convenience stores, and similar locations.

In the meantime, preserving insurance coverage for naloxone and for health services for people who use drugs is vital. Efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act threaten to undermine this goal, as 1.2 million people in the US have accessed drug dependence treatment from Medicaid expansion alone.

“The Trump administration and state governments have a choice: help to save lives by making Naloxone more accessible, or let thousands more die needlessly on their watch,” McLemore said.

Cambodia: Use Anniversary to “FreeThe5KH”

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

(New York) – The Cambodian government should immediately release five human rights defenders who have spent a year in prison on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. The four current and one former member of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) were placed in custody on April 28, 2016, and later falsely charged with “bribery of a witness.”


People shout during a Human Rights Day celebration at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 10, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Samrang Pring

On April 26, 2017, the detainees, listed as “FreeThe5KH” (Free the Khmer Five), were named as a finalist for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award will be presented on October 10 in Geneva. Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia’s donor governments and the wider public to participate in the #FreeThe5KH campaign at https://freethe5kh.net/.

“Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the release and dropping of bogus charges against the ‘ADHOC Five,’ which were instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate and suppress human rights work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These human rights defenders are in jail as part of a campaign to destroy the opposition and scare Cambodian human rights workers into silence.”

The ADHOC Five are staffers Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, and former ADHOC staffer Ny Chakrya, a deputy secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Election Committee.

On May 1, 2016, Hun Sen stated in a speech that those arrested in the case (see below) should be jailed. The next day, an investigating judge of the Phnom Penh court filed “bribery of a witness” charges against four of the detainees. Ny Chakrya was charged with being an accomplice. “Bribery of a witness” is set out under article 548 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code as “the direct or indirect giving of a gift, offer, promise, or interest to a witness in order (1) not to testify; (2) to provide false testimony.” The offense is punishable by five to 10 years in prison. Convicted accomplices face the same punishment.

Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the release and dropping of bogus charges against the ‘ADHOC Five,’ which were instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate and suppress human rights work. Brad Adams

Asia Director

As the #FreeThe5KH campaign states, the five were “detained in regard to the advice and legitimate reimbursement of food and transport costs provided to the woman alleged to have had an extra-marital relationship with the deputy opposition leader.”

The Phnom Penh court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court have each refused bail to the five. The prolonged pretrial detention of the ADHOC Five violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a party. Article 9(3) states, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that “pretrial detention should be an exception and as short as possible.” Pretrial detention should not be used as a form of punishment. The Human Rights Committee has stated that excessive pretrial detention may in itself be a violation of the rights to liberty and presumption of innocence.

In its bail ruling, the Supreme Court cited article 205 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, saying it was necessary to deny bail to maintain public order and prevent interference with witnesses and victims. However, no specific information of the necessity of such prolonged pretrial detention was provided, and no explanation was given as to why non-custodial measures were insufficient to ensure their appearance in court or to prevent any reasonably anticipated interference with the administration of justice.

“Cambodia’s courts have once again done the bidding of Hun Sen’s government to suppress civil society,” Adams said. “Millions of dollars of international training and mentoring has been wasted as the courts remain tools of injustice.”

Article 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that governments shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection for human rights defenders against “any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” related to their efforts to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that the critical test for human rights work worldwide is whether it is aimed at “acting in support of victims of human rights violations,” including by providing those who may be victims of human rights violations with counseling and other assistance.

January 12, 2015 Report 30 Years of Hun Sen

Violence, Repression, and Corruption in Cambodia

Over the past year, Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have significantly escalated persecution on political grounds, targeting Cambodia’s political opposition, human rights workers, social activists, and public intellectuals on the basis of their real or perceived political opposition to the government and its leader. These abuses appeared aimed to prevent victory or create conditions for overturning victory by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in local and national elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018 respectively.

“Cambodia now has dozens of political prisoners, which should be an embarrassment to countries whose foreign assistance sustains an increasingly dictatorial and deeply corrupt government,” Adams said. “No one should mistake these prosecutions for anything other than Hun Sen’s effort to undo decades of work by courageous Cambodian human rights defenders to promote rights and democracy in their country.”


The case of the ADHOC Five arose after ADHOC provided human rights advice and assistance to Khom Chandaraty, widely known as Srey Mom. She and her family approached ADHOC for help on March 9, 2016, after she was “invited” for questioning by the Counterterrorism Directorate of the government’s Central Directorate for Security, which is headed by Lt. Gen. Dy Vichea, a member of the CPP Central Committee and Hun Sen’s son-in-law. The summons did not concern any alleged terrorist activity but asked Srey Mom to provide clarifications about a purported surreptitiously made recording of a conversation between her and Kem Sokha, then acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (he is now the official leader after party leader Sam Rainsy resigned after the CPP threatened to liquidate the party ahead of upcoming elections). The recording supposedly demonstrated that she and Kem Sokha were involved in an extramarital affair. On March 11, 2016, when questioned by counterterrorism officers, she denied all allegations. On March 18, she received a second summons, this time from the Phnom Penh court prosecutor, to reply to the accusation she had lied to the counterterrorism unit and that her relationship with Kem Sokha was one of prostitution. 

Srey Mom continued to seek assistance from ADHOC. According to records released by the group, she said that the tapes were faked, there had been no affair with Kem Sokha, she was being intimidated by the authorities, and was suffering livelihood difficulties. As it routinely does for victims of alleged government abuses, ADHOC provided Srey Mom with a small sum of money for expenses, including to help her attend court, and assigned her a lawyer. On April 19, 2016, when she appeared with her lawyer before the prosecution, she reversed her denial of having an affair with Kem Sokha. On April 22, she issued an open letter alleging that the four ADHOC staffers and UN employee Son Saly had enticed her to lie to the authorities by sticking to her original story and suggested that she should leave Cambodia.

On April 23, 2016, the Ministry of Justice, which has a controlling influence over the Cambodian judiciary, cited Srey Mom’s letter and “condemned unreservedly the law-violating conduct” of ADHOC and the UN, and called for “the competent authorities” to “take the most vigorous legal measures” against them. ADHOC publicly denied any wrongdoing and distributed internal records backing up its contention that it had acted entirely in accordance with legal and professional standards for human rights work.

On April 25, the five current and former ADHOC staffers were summoned to present themselves for questioning on April 27 and 28 by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which has judicial police authority to investigate allegations of bribing a witness. The ACU is headed by CPP Central Committee member and long-term Hun Sen confidante Om Yentieng. On April 28, 2016, the ACU placed the five in custody, and on May 1, it brought them before the Phnom Penh court. While in ACU custody, they were not given access to legal counsel.

Israel: Human Rights Watch Granted Work Permit

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities on April 26, 2017, granted a work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Human Rights Watch said today.


An EL AL Airlines aircraft taxies at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on July 14, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

The approval of a one-year work visa reverses a February 20 Interior Ministry decision to deny a work permit to Human Rights Watch.

“We welcome this opportunity to work in Israel and Palestine alongside vigorous national human rights organizations,” said Iain Levine, executive deputy director for program at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities do not always agree with our findings, but, in facilitating the ability of our staff to carry out our research and documentation, they have taken an important step to safeguard the principle of transparency and demonstrate their openness to criticism.”

Human Rights Watch applied to the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority on July 14, 2016, for a work permit on behalf of Shakir, a United States citizen who is a lawyer by training. The Interior Ministry initially denied the work permit for Shakir, but allowed him to enter the country on tourist visa on March 6, 2017, for a 10-day visit.

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In a March 12 letter, which Human Rights Watch received on March 27, the Interior Ministry notified Human Rights Watch that it had granted it permission to employ a foreign expert in Israel. The Interior Ministry accepted the paperwork and payment for Shakir’s work visa under the organization’s work permit on April 20, and Shakir received the visa upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on April 26.

Human Rights Watch has had regular access to Israel and the West Bank for nearly three decades, with staff and offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza for much of this period. Human Rights Watch staff have regularly met and corresponded with Israeli government officials. Since 2008, Israel has refused Human Rights Watch access to Gaza, except for one visit in 2016.

Human Rights Watch is an independent, international, nongovernmental organization that promotes respect for human rights and international law. It monitors rights violations in more than 90 counties across the world. To carry out its work, Human Rights Watch relies on rigorous research from professional researchers on the ground and regular engagement with government officials, as well as others with first-hand information.

Israeli authorities have in recent years limited the space for local and international human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine. A law passed by the Knesset in July requires Israeli nonprofit groups that receive more than half their funding, indirectly or directly, from foreign governments to note that information in communications with the public and with government officials. Data from the Population and Immigration Authority obtained by Haaretz via a Freedom of Information Law in February 2017 indicates a ninefold increase in the number of visitors to Israel denied entry over the past five years. In March, the Knesset passed a law barring entry to those who call for or support a boycott of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Having our country director based in Israel and Palestine will allow us to closely engage Israeli and Palestinian officials, partners, and those directly affected by human rights abuses,” Levine said. “We hope that this decision reflects a larger recommitment by the Israeli government to allow international and domestic rights groups to work freely and to improve access to and from Gaza, in particular for human rights workers.”

Bahrain: Detained Activist’s Health Worsens

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

(Beirut) – A prominent Bahraini human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, is suffering from health problems that have developed or deteriorated during more than 10 months of arbitrary detention, Human Rights Watch said today. The charges against him violate his right to free expression, and there is evidence he has been punished arbitrarily.


Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab arrives for his appeal hearing at court in Manama, February 11, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

Bahraini authorities arrested Rajab in June 2016, following his social media comments critical of Saudi Arabian airstrikes in Yemen and alleged torture in a Bahrain prison. Since then, his health has deteriorated dramatically. He has undergone two operations, suffered two bouts of heart palpitations that required emergency medical care, and has developed a range of other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count and depression. Most recently, his family told Human Rights Watch, the authorities returned him to his cell two days after an April 5, 2017 operation, contrary to medical advice, leading to his re-hospitalization on April 8. He is in the Public Security Forces Clinic in Qalaa.

“Filing criminal charges against Nabeel Rajab solely for his peaceful criticism and then refusing to free him while the courts cavalierly postpone hearings shows Bahrain’s contempt for the most elemental human rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Nabeel Rajab should not be in jail, and his deteriorating health underscores the injustice of arbitrarily detaining him.”

Comments on Rajab’s Twitter account about the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen led to his initial arrest, on April 2, 2015. Authorities released him more than three months later, on July 13, but prosecutors ordered his re-arrest on June 13, 2016. Bahrain’s penal code provides for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors.” If convicted of “offending a foreign country,” referring to Saudi Arabia, Rajab faces a two-year sentence under article 215 of the penal code. If convicted of “offending national institutions,” based on comments about unrest in Jaw Prison in March 2015, Rajab faces an additional three years under article 216 of the penal code.

The thirteenth hearing in that trial is scheduled on May 17. At a December 28 session, a judge ordered Rajab released on bail. But authorities immediately re-arrested him and charged him with making “false or malicious” statements in television interviews in which he criticized the Bahraini authorities’ refusal to allow journalists and rights groups into the country. The third session of this second trial is scheduled for May 3. Rajab faces up to 18 years in jail if found guilty on all charges.

The conditions of Rajab’s detention have at times appeared to amount to arbitrary punishment. His family told Human Rights Watch that he has been in solitary confinement since September 4, when the New York Times published an opinion piece he wrote about human rights abuses in Bahrain. On December 20, Le Monde published an article by Rajab. Bahraini authorities interrogated him about both articles and referred both cases to the public prosecution for investigation into alleged violations of article 134 of the penal code relating to alleged “false or malicious information.” In July 2016 he was denied compassionate leave to attend a relative’s funeral.

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On April 8, Rajab’s family expressed concern that the open wound from surgery to correct a urological/colorectal condition was at risk of infection due to the unhygienic conditions of his cell at East Riffa police station. An April 8 statement by the Bahrain Embassy in the United Kingdom said that he had been transferred him to the Public Security Forces Clinic in Qalaa that evening.

The charges against Rajab are a clear violation of his right to free expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures state that “pre-trial detention shall be used as a means of last resort in criminal proceedings, with due regard for the investigation of the alleged offence and for the protection of society and the victim.” The repeated adjournments of his trial sessions also violate Bahrain’s ICCPR obligations to try Rajab within a reasonable time.

Several times during the Obama administration, the United States called on Bahrain to release Rajab and drop the charges against him. The US also held up the sale of F-16 fighter jets pending unspecified human rights improvements. The Trump administration has signaled that it plans to proceed with the F-16 sale despite the deterioration in human rights conditions in Bahrain. Other key Bahraini allies, notably the United Kingdom, have failed to call for Rajab’s release at any stage of his detention.

“The silence on Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for human rights from London, and now from Washington under Trump, is nothing less than shameful,” Stork said.

Brazil: Court Reviewing Criminalization of Abortion

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(Sao Paulo) – Criminalization of abortion is incompatible with Brazil’s human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today in filing amicus briefs in two cases before the Federal Supreme Court. Human Rights Watch said that the court should move to decriminalize abortion.


A health agent carries a bucket of guppy fish to place them in standing water to consume larva of Zika-transmitting mosquitoes in an empty lot of Rio de Janeiro's Tijuca neighborhood, Brazil, February 17, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, when necessary to save a woman’s life, or when the fetus suffers anencephaly – a fatal congenital brain disorder. Women and girls who terminate pregnancies under any other conditions face sentences of up to three years in prison, while people who perform abortions face up to four years. In one case before the court, the National Association of Public Defenders, on August 24, 2016, challenged the criminalization of abortion in the context of the Zika virus epidemic, on the grounds that pregnant women experiencing mental health impacts from contracting the virus during pregnancy should have the option to interrupt the pregnancy. In March 2017, the Socialism and Freedom Party filed a separate case challenging the criminalization of abortion on any grounds in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“Criminal penalties for abortion deny pregnant women and girls the right to make deeply personal decisions about their health and lives, and threaten a wide range of human rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to align Brazil’s laws with its international obligations.”

International human rights treaties require governments to respect women’s reproductive and other human rights. Authoritative interpretations of these treaties by United Nations experts call for the removal of criminal penalties for abortion. Governments should take steps, both immediate and incremental, to ensure that women have informed and unhindered access to safe and legal abortion services, Human Rights Watch said.

The criminalization of abortion in Brazil negatively affects many human rights, including women’s rights to life, health, nondiscrimination and equality, privacy, and to be free from torture and from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. The amicus briefs analyze Brazil’s international human rights obligations to reform restrictive abortion laws.

Criminal penalties for abortion deny pregnant women and girls the right to make deeply personal decisions about their health and lives, and threaten a wide range of human rights. José Miguel Vivanco

Americas director

For more than a decade, UN human rights bodies and experts have criticized Brazil for punitive restrictions on abortion, and have urged the government to modify these laws. In 2015, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said that Brazil should “[d]ecriminalize abortions in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services.” In 2012, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said that Brazil should “[e]xpedite the review of its legislation criminalizing abortion in order to remove punitive provisions imposed on women.”

Media reports indicate that in 2014 alone, at least 33 women were arrested for having abortions, seven of whom had been reported by doctors after the women went to hospitals to seek post-abortion care. One report said that one of these women spent three days handcuffed to a hospital bed.

Reforming laws to facilitate safe abortion has not been found to increase the rate or number of abortions. It does make them safer. The World Health Organization has found that removing restrictions reduces maternal mortality from unsafe abortions.

“Prosecuting women for a procedure that is safe and should be included in comprehensive health services is cruel and a misuse of the criminal law,” Vivanco said. “A decision about terminating a pregnancy is a difficult one for any woman, and is for her to make alongside those she chooses to involve, such as her doctor or family or friends: not a prosecutor.”

Brazil’s restrictive abortion laws are detrimental to public health, Human Rights Watch said. Women and girls unable to prevent an unplanned pregnancy have very few options, and may turn to life-threatening clandestine abortions. According to official information, abortion was the direct cause of 55 maternal deaths in Brazil in 2014, and 69 in 2015.

These figures most likely vastly underestimate the consequences of the criminalization of abortion to women’s health and lives. An estimated half million abortions took place in Brazil in 2015 alone – nearly all of them illegal. Clandestine procedures often lead to complications and the need for post-abortion care. Human Rights Watch has interviewed doctors who have treated women and girls in the past year who had turned to caustic acid or other unsafe methods to try to induce abortion.

In contrast, complications from abortion are rare when performed by a skilled health care provider in sanitary conditions.

“Brazil should confront the public health crisis illegal abortion creates, and protect women’s health and safety by decriminalizing abortion,” Vivanco said. “Decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman, without penalty or interference by the government or anyone else.”

Indonesia: Journalists Under Assault

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(Jakarta, April 26, 2017) - The Indonesian government should adopt measures to ensure that state security forces who physically attack journalists are suspended and appropriately prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said today. New data and case research shows a disturbing increase in assaults on journalists in the past two years.


A police officer kicks photographer Ikshan Arham of the Rakyat Sulsel newspaper during a  student protest at Makassar State University on November 13, 2014. Police allegedly assaulted 10 journalists that day, but no officers have been prosecuted for those abuses. 

© 2014 Hasrul Said/Radar Makassar

Irina Bokova, the director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which chose Jakarta as global host for its annual World Press Freedom Day commemoration on May 3, 2017, should use the occasion to publicly address the increase in assaults on journalists and urge President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to take more decisive action in response.

“World Press Freedom Day should be a time to celebrate the role journalists play in society, but in Indonesia the focus too often is on reporters’ fears,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should reverse the dangerous deterioration of press freedom in the country and prosecute security force personnel who physically assault journalists.”

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), a nongovernmental union, reported that there were 78 incidents in 2016 of violent attacks on journalists, including by security forces, compared with 42 in 2015, and 40 in 2014. AJI found that the attackers have been brought to justice in only a very few of those 78 incidents. Indonesia’s 1999 Press Law provides explicit protection for journalists, including up to two years in prison and fines of 500 million rupiah (US$44,000) for anyone who physically attacks a journalist.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 18 journalists and six human rights advocates in Balikpapan, Banten, Jakarta, Jayapura, Makassar, Medan, Padang, Pekanbaru, and Surabaya. They described an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship in many newsrooms due to abuses and threats by security forces and local authorities that go unpunished and that, most of the time, are not even rigorously investigated.

The abuses include destruction of journalists’ equipment (especially cameras and memory cards), harassment, intimidation, threats, and assault. These abuses have occurred in all of Indonesia’s major islands, typically in provincial capitals and smaller cities. They are less common in Jakarta, the national capital, where journalists are more aware of their rights and are supported by stronger professional organizations.

Human Rights Watch investigated three incidents of violent assaults involving five journalists. All had sought resolution of their cases and were concerned about possible reprisals for publicly disclosing details of their abuse.

The provinces of Papua and West Papua – (commonly referred to jointly as “Papua”) – remain particularly difficult places for both Indonesian and foreign journalists. Papuan journalists in particular face harassment, intimidation, and at times violence from security forces and pro-independence forces when they report on corruption, rights abuses, land grabs, and other sensitive topics. Indonesian authorities continue to restrict access by foreign journalists to Papua on spurious “security” grounds despite Jokowi’s May 10, 2015, announcement that accredited foreign media would have unimpeded access to Papua.

Indonesia’s considerable gains in media freedom since the fall of authoritarian President Suharto in 1998 will not be sustainable if the government does not respond promptly and vigorously when journalists and media organizations are harassed or suffer violence, Human Rights Watch said. To ensure that laws protecting journalists are enforced, the Jokowi government should insist that state agencies, notably the police and armed forces, adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward physical abuse of journalists.

Members of those forces suspected of assaulting a journalist should be suspended from the force and, as evidence warrants, criminally prosecuted. Any official who engages in abusive efforts to compel private settlements of assault cases should also be relieved of duty. Finally, the government should create appropriate educational programs on media freedom for government officials, police, and military personnel.

UNESCO and other international donors should support the efforts of nongovernmental media advocacy groups, particularly those seeking to open offices in Indonesia’s provinces, to help educate journalists about their rights and legal avenues for accountability when those rights are violated, Human Rights Watch said. UNESCO should also support the Indonesian Press Council in conducting a public education campaign on freedom of expression.

“The Indonesian government has an obligation to address the security threats to journalists so that they don’t risk physical violence for doing their jobs,” Kine said. “World Press Freedom Day observances in Jakarta will be a cynical public relations exercise unless the Indonesian government, with UNESCO’s help, puts media freedom at the top of the agenda.”

Attacks on Journalists

Media freedom in Indonesia has improved significantly in the nearly two decades since the end of the authoritarian rule of President Suharto. Indonesia now has hundreds of television stations (including cable), more than 2,000 radio stations, and 1,000 newspapers, as well as web-based media outlets. Those outlets are owned and operated by 13 media conglomerates. The number of reporters has increased from about 15,000 during the Suharto era to at least 100,000 today. However, in recent years there has been an uptick in reports of harassment and intimidation of journalists, and, more recently, a sharp increase in reported cases of physical assaults on journalists.

The following cases detail the risks that reporters can face when covering sensitive stories and the failure of the security forces and the justice system to provide accountability.

Iqbal Lubis, Tempo Group photographer
Vincent Waldy, Metro TV videographer
Attacked by police officers covering student demonstration in Makassar, November 13, 2014

On November 13, 2014, Iqbal Lubis, a photographer for the Tempo Group, went to the campus of Makassar State University to photograph student protests against the Jokowi government’s decision to raise the price of gasoline. The protest had been going on for about a week.

The protests that day devolved into violence, with students throwing stones at several hundred police. The police – with full riot gear, body shields, batons, teargas, and anti-riot vehicles – had deployed on the campus perimeter to ensure the protests did not spill out into the surrounding neighborhood.

Lubis told Human Rights Watch said that on the afternoon of November 13, assembled police were informed via two-way radio that students had shot Makassar’s deputy police chief, Totok Lisdiarto, with an arrow.

The police became angry, with some shouting “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Lubis said that hundreds of police entered the campus and began chasing the students, who tried to flee. The police kicked over motorcycles parked on the campus and smashed the windshields of parked cars. They entered classrooms and ordered students to leave. Some police prevented their colleagues from smashing campus windows. Lubis said that he along with more than a dozen other journalists followed the police as they advanced deeper into the campus. Some police shouted, “Arrest! Arrest!”

Police punched and kicked an elderly man students identified as a deputy dean. As police handcuffed the man and led him to a nearby police car, several female students started crying and screaming. Lubis, along with Vincent Waldy of Metro TV, left the main group of journalists and saw police officers surround a group of students under a tree. The police told the female students to leave and began to punch and kick the sole male student. Lubis took photos as police beat the student, ripping the student’s shirt. Lubis said:

Suddenly, a police shield hit my camera. I told the policeman [who hit me] that I was a journalist. I showed them my press card. But more police officers [approached]. I recognized their uniforms: Brimob [Mobile Brigade] and Sabhara [Anti-Riot] police. They hit me with their bare hands and their shields. I used my hands to deflect most of the beatings to my head. It saved me from serious injuries. I only got bruises on my hands.

Waldy tried to stop police from beating Lubis, telling them he was a journalist. Lubis took the opportunity to run away, and police then began hitting Waldy. Waldy said:

I approached Iqbal [Lubis] and dragged him away [from the police]. I said that we were journalists. I tried to stop the police pushing Iqbal. Iqbal managed to run. Suddenly a Brimob officer hit me from the left and I was immediately bleeding from my forehead. I did not see the person or what he used to beat me. My guess is it was an anti-riot shield. It was heavy and big. I momentarily lost consciousness and fell to the ground.

Several other journalists approached and took photos of Waldy being beaten. Others tried to protect Waldy. Lubis said:

Police shouted, “No photo! No photo!” I kept running away but two Brimob officers chased me. A third Brimob officer stopped me. But another cameraman, Ikhsan Arham, shouted that I was a journalist. One officer punched Arham, who became emotional. Arham said if [the police] wanted to fight, they should have a one-on-one fight. His statement apparently changed the police [attitude]. Those Brimob let me go. Arham told me that Waldy was bleeding and had been rushed to a hospital.

One of Waldy’s colleagues took him to nearby Faisal Hospital, where doctors closed the gash on his forehead with five stitches. Encouraged by his colleagues to report the attack to the police, that evening he and an adviser from a nongovernment legal group went to the Makassar police station. Two weeks later the police summoned him again to give more information about the attack. The police asked him to identify the attacker, but Waldy could not because he had not seen his assailant.

Lubis also sought redress for his injuries. He said he could identify one of the five or more police officers who attacked him because other journalists had recorded his name badge in video and photographs.

The following day, November 14, police summoned Lubis to the Makassar police precinct to make a formal complaint against the police who assaulted him. Representatives of the Alliance of Independent Journalists and the Indonesian Photojournalists Association accompanied him. Three days later, police summoned Lubis to repeat his testimony, which he did on November 19. At that session, police investigators asked him 22 questions about the incident.

For a month afterward, a coalition of journalist and student groups staged daily protests demanding accountability for Lubis. But false rumors circulated that Lubis and the other journalists assaulted on November 13 had benefited from an informal agreement with the Makassar police that included replacing the journalists’ damaged cameras in exchange for not pressing charges. Lubis said:

I have not met the police chief since the incident. I borrowed my friends’ cameras to keep on working. I am just a freelancer. I get my pay per photo. In the next three months, I avoided the Makassar police precinct. I am traumatized. Until now there has been no trial of the police officers who beat the students and journalists.

He said in March 2017 that there has been no movement in his case and the police who attacked him have not been punished.

Waldy similarly has said he heard nothing about prosecutions of police for the beatings:

Until now there’s been no follow up from the police. I have learned my lesson. It’s better to be extremely careful when covering the police. They can attack you without any reason. It was chaotic. We journalists have to take care of ourselves.

Fadjriani Langgeng, the director of the legal group, the Press Legal Aid Institute (LBH Pers) in  Makassar, said her office documented police assaults on November 13 on 10 journalists, including from media outlets Metro TV, Tempo, Celebes TV, and the Rakyat Sulsel daily newspaper. She said that the lack of police response to their complaints means “the cases are going nowhere.”

Array Argus, Tribune (Tribun Medan) daily reporter
Andri Syafrin Poerba, MNC Group cameraman
Beaten by military personnel while covering land dispute in Medan, August 15, 2016

On August 15, 2016, Array Argus from the Tribune in Medan covered a land rights protest by residents of the city’s Sarirejo district near the Soewondo Air Force base. The dispute over 5,000 hectares of land hinged on the Air Force’s rejection of a Supreme Court ruling that the disputed land belonged to the residents and could not be used for a multistory residential building

Argus went to the protest site with Teddy Akbari, a reporter for the Sumut Pos daily, at about 3 p.m. At the edge of the protest site they encountered a woman who tearfully claimed that Air Force personnel had “kidnapped” her son. While they interviewed the woman, military trucks arrived on the scene and soldiers in uniform began using batons to disperse protesting residents, Argus said. A uniformed Air Force officer approached Argus and demanded to see his official identity card, which Argus gave him. A nearby Air Force officer suddenly shouted: “That was the person!” pointing at Argus. Argus said:

They suddenly started punching and kicking me. I heard someone shout that I had taken their photo. I ran away into a small alley but it was a dead end. [Several Air Force officers] grabbed my hair. They kicked me. They beat me with their batons. They kept on shouting, “You took the photos! You took the photos!” I shouted that I did not take their photos. I fell on my back and they stomped their boots on my chest. They seized my cell phone and left.

Argus walked back to the intersection and encountered a Military Police officer who returned Argus’s phone and shouted, “You go! Get out of here!” Argus then saw the Air Force officers who had assaulted him leaving the area on foot.

Journalists arriving at the scene helped Argus get to a nearby hospital, Mitra Sejati. Doctors there gave him emergency treatment from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. A detailed medical examination revealed that Argus had several bruised ribs and internal bleeding in his right arm. They gave him oxygen. When he asked hospital staff to provide a medical statement specifying his injuries, they informed him that the police had to make the request. Argus then called the Medan Baru police, whose jurisdiction includes the Sarirejo area, and asked them to direct the hospital to issue the report. But a senior police officer refused, saying that the incident was within the jurisdiction of the Air Force and directed Argus to get the request from Air Force Military Police.

Three days later, on August 18, representatives of the nongovernmental legal advocacy organization LBH Medan, AJI Medan, and the Jakarta-based Press Council accompanied Argus to report the assault to the Air Force Military Police. The Military Police issued a request addressed to the Air Force hospital for a medical statement detailing Argus’ injuries.

Argus underwent the required examination later that day. The Air Force hospital subsequently issued a copy of Argus’ medical statement to the Air Force Military Police, but refused without explanation to give Argus a copy.

Over the next month, Argus went to the Air Force Military Police headquarters three more times at the authorities’ request to testify about the attack and his injuries. They asked him if he recognized any of his attackers. Argus gave them the names from the badge of one of his attackers and the Military Police officer who had returned his phone.

In November 2016, after Argus had testified for a fourth time at Military Police headquarters, a Military Police commander, Maj. Nicolas Sinaga, said two Air Force personnel were suspects, but would not divulge their names. Major Sinaga said he would send the dossiers to the military prosecutor in Medan. Argus learned from other sources that the attacker whose badge he had seen was one of the two suspects. However, Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain information about any further progress in identifying and prosecuting the Air Force personnel who assaulted Argus.

Andri Syafrin Poerba, a cameraman for the MNC Group, arrived at the demonstration shortly after 3 p.m. and started taking photographs of the protesters and the soldiers. Poerba said that several soldiers suddenly surrounded him. One kicked him in the head. Poerba shouted “Journalist!” and showed them his press card. Two soldiers in jungle camouflage uniforms grabbed his arms while a third took his press card away. He said:

They dragged me to a store. They did not care. They punched me with their fists. They kicked me with their boots. They used batons against me. I lost count how many times they punched, kicked, and hit me with batons. They seized my Sony camera. I saw them taking my camera to an Air Force officer, in light blue shirt, standing nearby. After about five to eight minutes of being assaulted, I managed to get on my feet and ran toward the nearby [protesting] residents. I was bleeding from my forehead, my chin and my arms.

When Poerba’s brother took him to Mitra Sejati Hospital, staff refused to admit him. Poerba believes they feared reprisals from the Air Force. Poerba then went to Royal Prima Hospital, where doctors diagnosed several broken ribs. Poerba was hospitalized for a week.

On August 18, Poerba’s wife reported the assault to the Air Force Military Police. Poerba, after he left the hospital in September, filed an official complaint with the Medan Military Police. The Military Police wanted to know how many soldiers had assaulted him, their identities and if there were witnesses to the attack. Poerba said he told them that:

I did not recognize their faces or names. I used my hands to cover my head. There were between five and eight soldiers assaulting me. They wore only military T-shirts – no name badges.

Poerba said that after he filed his complaint, the Military Police never contacted him again. The Air Force spokesman returned the wallet and cell phone that had been taken from him during the assault, but not his camera or press card. Poerba said the attack had inflicted lingering physical and psychological trauma:

Where is the trial? Are we talking about impunity here? Are we talking about covering up here? I am still not able to work. I am still getting alternative medical treatment with herbs and massages [for pain in my ribs and my head]. I began to do this a month after I left the hospital. I was not only bruised but also suffered nerve damage [and other injuries] to my head, both arms and hip. My wife found blood on my pillow on the third day of my hospitalization. I used to be an active journalist, but now I have to stay home. That’s not to mention the psychological problems. Sometimes I sob at night when seeing my children sleeping.

Sonny Misdianto, Net TV journalist
Assaulted by military personnel in Madiun, October 2, 2016

On October 2, 2016, at about 2 p.m., Sonny Misdianto was riding his motorcycle in downtown Madiun when he noticed that the Teratai martial arts carnival had just ended and that participants and spectators were leaving the area. Because it was raining, he stopped near a row of stores, waiting for the rain to stop.

Young martial arts enthusiasts were loudly revving their motorcycles and doing wheelies down the street. As Misdianto watched, one of those motorcycles suddenly went through a red light at the intersection and hit a woman. Misdianto immediately grabbed his camera and began filming the scene of the accident.

Moments later, about 20 uniformed members of the Madiun-based 501st Raider Battalion of Kostrad, an elite strategic reserve command unit, ran toward the intersection. Misdianto said that he thought these soldiers intended to help the woman. Instead, the soldiers, who were bearing nunchuck martial arts weapons and plastic pipes filled with sand, assaulted the martial arts enthusiasts who had gathered at the scene of the accident to try to help the injured woman. Misdianto said a soldier suddenly came up to him and asked, “Hey, why are you recording?”

I said, “I’m a journalist.” I showed him my press card around my neck. He said, “Why are you recording? You’re wrong. You have no right to record. Stupid journalist!”

Misdianto said one of the soldiers grabbed him and they forced him into a nearby store, away from the intersection where the soldiers were still assaulting the martial arts enthusiasts. The soldiers demanded that Misdianto delete the files on his video camera. He said that when he refused, they kept insisting, punching and kicking him. One soldier hit Misdianto’s head with his nunchucks, causing him to momentarily lose consciousness. Another hit him on his right cheek. A third kicked him in the back. They forced him to open his camera and took out its memory card. They destroyed the memory card and deliberately broke his camera.

A Military Police officer who was passing by rescued Misdianto from his attackers and took him by motorcycle to Madiun’s Army Military Police Command. There, the deputy military commander demanded that Misdianto delete all photos from his phone. Misdianto said he thought he did not have any other option so he deleted the photos.

While he was there, Misdianto reported the attack to his Net TV supervisors, who decided to file criminal charges against the 501st Raider Battalion. While Misdianto was at the Military Police office, journalists from other media outlets took pictures of his injuries and interviewed him. The Military Police officers, visibly concerned about the media exposure, ushered Misdianto into a separate room and barred journalists from entering.

At 5 p.m. a senior police officer arrived at the Military Police office and asked Misdianto to go with him into his car. Misdianto said:

I told him that I had injuries. My head was spinning, I had bruises all over my body. He brought me to the emergency unit at the Madiun police precinct in which I got my first medical treatment. The [officer] later wanted to talk to me privately. He said, “Please don’t go ahead [with the criminal charges].”

Misdianto said the officer tried to give him an envelope that he believed had money inside, but declined. He said he wanted prosecution of the case to continue.

Misdianto said a military officer from the 501st Raider Battalion visited him later at his home, saying he wanted to resolve the case via an informal restitution process rather than by criminal charges. He urged Misdianto not to press charges against his unit, telling him, “We have known each other for a long time.”

While Misdianto spoke with the military officer, he got a phone call from his father, who lives a two-hour drive away in the town of Ponorogo. His father told him that two soldiers had just visited his home and asked him to show them his official identification documents and about his relationship with Misdianto. Misdianto asked the officer at his home why the military in Ponorogo to gone to visit his father. The officer denied it was his initiative, but admitted the Military Police  was responsible. Later that evening, Military Police came to Misdianto’s home and seized his video camera, ostensibly as evidence.

At about 8 p.m., Misdianto and a colleague went to the Madiun police precinct and filed a criminal complaint about his attack. But the police told Misdianto that civilian police had no jurisdiction over the matter and referred him to the Military Police. Misdianto and his colleague returned to the Military Police office and filed a complaint over the objections of the officers, who wanted to resolve the case informally. The next day Misdianto was required to return to the office and re-file his complaint after being told there had been a “technical error” in his first complaint.

Later that day, Misdianto’s relatives told him that men with military-style crewcuts passed by his house, while other men suddenly appeared in a rice field behind his house. For the rest of the week, military officers phoned him four or five times a day, pressing him to drop criminal charges and accept an informal restitution process. The military also called his Net TV supervisors in Surabaya and Jakarta to make the same request.

Net TV transferred Misdianto to Surabaya for several days to avoid the pressure of the criminal case in Madiun. During that time, his wife in Madiun kept reporting the presence of mysterious men with crewcuts around their house. She said the men tried to give the appearance of being joggers, scrap metal scavengers or local farmers, but that she felt she was under surveillance, he said.

Over a 10-day period, Misdianto and his family received more than 100 calls from various military officers. This pressure ultimately induced Misdianto to drop criminal charges against his attackers and accept the informal restitution process.

A week later, from Surabaya, Misdianto went with a Net TV executive to meet with a two-star general at the Jakarta headquarters of Kostrad. Misdianto sought compensation for his broken camera, military discipline against his attackers, and a guarantee from the Kostrad central command that the military would respect media freedom. He also demanded that the military cease harassing his wife and family.

He stayed only two days in Jakarta. Back in Madiun, Misdianto went to the Military Police office and withdrew his criminal complaint. The Military Police returned his broken camera, but provided none of the promised compensation for its repair. Almost immediately, the mysterious men with crewcuts disappeared from around his house. Misdianto said his assault taught him that “press freedom in Indonesia is only an empty message.”

Redress and Accountability Mechanisms

Indonesian authorities have obligations under international human rights law to provide redress and accountability when the rights of journalists and media organizations are violated.

International human rights law, notably article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, upholds the rights to freedom of expression and the media. It also places limits on those freedoms: legal restrictions may be imposed to protect the rights and reputations of others, namely through civil defamation laws, so long as the penalties are proportionate to the harm caused. However, editors and publishers should be held responsible for what they publish by their readers and listeners, communities, and independent journalist associations – not by the government.

Indonesian law also requires journalists who are targets of physical assault to report such incidents to the National Police Profession and Security Division if the perpetrator is a police officer, or to the Military Police if the perpetrator is a soldier. The government human rights commission, Komnas-HAM, has found that police investigations of incidents of violence against journalists often stall “because of technicalities or as a result of social or political pressure.”

The Alliance of Independent Journalists and the LBH Pers, a nongovernmental legal aid organization that specializes in media freedom issues, attribute the increase of attacks on journalists to the cumulative impact of Indonesia’s chronic problems of security force impunity as well as the reluctance of media companies to support journalists who are targets of such abuse. LBH Pers said that many journalists who are victims of violence tend to accept police or military offers of informal financial compensation so they can repair or replace damaged or destroyed cameras and mobile phones. The Makassar-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom of Expression partly attributes the impunity for attacks on journalists to their lack of knowledge of both their rights and legal processes for accountability. 

US Congress: Reject Trump Anti-Immigrant Funding

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(Washington, DC) – The United States Congress should reject President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2017 supplemental funding request for a dramatic expansion of immigration detention and enforcement, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to congressional leaders. Congress will vote within the next several days on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating through September 2017.


A U.S. border patrol agent walks along the border fence separating Mexico from the United States near Calexico, California, U.S. February 8, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters Trump has asked Congress to include a US$3 billion down payment toward his plan to expand immigration detention facilities and hire thousands of new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Recent reports indicate that Trump may be open to postponing discussion of part of his funding request, for construction of a “wall” on the US-Mexico border, if Congress approves his requests for more immigration enforcement resources. Congress should reject any deal along those lines.

“Congress shouldn’t allow discussions over the wall to distract it from the devastating toll of Trump’s cruel and unnecessary immigration enforcement policies,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, co-director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The broken and already bloated system tears people unfairly from their families, returns asylum seekers to persecution, and detains people who don’t belong behind bars at all in dangerously substandard conditions.”

Trump’s request for additional funds would include billions of dollars in resources to expand immigration detention facilities, where substandard medical care puts many people’s lives in danger.

Congress shouldn’t allow discussions over the wall to distract it from the devastating toll of Trump’s cruel and unnecessary immigration enforcement policies. Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno

Co-director of the US Program

The president’s proposals would also add thousands more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, which would ultimately increase the number of people torn from their families through deportation without consideration of their ties to this country, and contribute to a tremendous climate of fear. The administration also seeks to add more Customs and Border Protection agents, who have a track record of abuse fueled by inadequate oversight, including sending asylum seekers back to countries where they would find themselves in dangerous situations.

“Trump wants to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on a dramatic expansion of the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation machine that is likely to rip apart more families and exacerbate ongoing human rights abuses in the immigration system,” McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said. “Congress should reject Trump’s appropriations request and refuse to consider any increase in the size and reach of the immigration detention and deportation system without first taking steps to rein in the abuses that pervade it.”

The Legality Surrounding the US Strikes in Syria

Opinio Juris - Tuesday, April 25, 2017
by Nancy Simons

by Nancy Simons [Nancy Simons is a Belgian lawyer and serves on the International Bar Association’s Drones Task Force. Her professional background lies in international law generally. She has worked at a number of international non-governmental organisations and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.] It has been almost two weeks since the United […]

UK: Tobacco Giant Should Respect Human Rights

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(London) – British American Tobacco (BAT) should strengthen its processes for identifying and addressing human rights risks in its global supply chain, Human Rights Watch and Swedwatch said today in an open letter to shareholders. At the company’s annual shareholder meeting on April 26, 2017, shareholders will have an opportunity to press the company to take action and to increase the transparency of its efforts.


An 8-year-old girl sorts and bundles tobacco leaves by hand near Sampang, East Java.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch and Swedwatch described the human rights concerns they identified in their research on farms supplying BAT in Indonesia and Bangladesh, respectively. Human Rights Watch has documented child labor and other human rights abuses in tobacco farming in several countries, and since 2014 has urged the largest global tobacco companies, including BAT, to improve human rights protections and monitoring in their supply chains.

“The global tobacco supply chain has serious risks of human rights abuses including child labor, as well as health and safety risks,” said Jane Buchanan, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Shareholders can press BAT to do a better job identifying and addressing human rights abuses to ensure that the company’s profits don’t come at the expense of vulnerable workers.”

In a May 2016 report, Human Rights Watch found that thousands of children in Indonesia, some as young as 8, are exposed to serious hazards while working on tobacco farms, including some that supply BAT. Many child workers mixed or sprayed toxic pesticides and many suffered nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning, a result of absorbing nicotine through their skin.

Human Rights Watch had previously documented hazardous child labor on tobacco farms in the United States, including in areas where a BAT supplier, Reynolds American, was purchasing tobacco leaf. Human Rights Watch has urged BAT and other tobacco companies to prohibit children from all work involving direct contact with tobacco.

The Stockholm-based Swedwatch, in a June 2016 report, found widespread and hazardous child labor, health problems suffered by families involved in tobacco production, and other serious human rights problems in Bangladesh. Interviewees told Swedwatch that children’s work on tobacco farms interfered with their education.

In describing how the company responded to the two reports, BAT Chief Executive Nicandro Durante said, in a March 2017 sustainability report: “We conduct detailed investigations, take appropriate action to address any issues identified, and report transparently on the progress and outcomes.”

The groups raised concerns about the rigor and credibility of BAT’s monitoring practices, and its transparency in publishing details about supply chain audits.

International human rights norms like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that companies are responsible for identifying and addressing human rights abuses in their global supply chains, and reporting publicly on their efforts.

“Without transparency, human rights abuses go undetected and are not remedied,” said Alice Blondel, director of Swedwatch. “BAT should carry out rigorous internal and third-party monitoring and publish details on the content of the assessments and results.”

Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers With Children Deported

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s General Security agency has detained and deported migrant domestic workers apparently for having children in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should stop deportations and release anyone detained for this reason. Denying residency renewals to long-term workers who have given birth while living in Lebanon disproportionately interferes with their right to family life.


A migrant domestic worker in a shelter east of Beirut, Lebanon, March 15, 2010. 

© 2010 Reuters

Lebanese authorities have deported at least 21 domestic workers with children since the summer of 2016, saying that they were not living with their employer or were not supposed to give birth in Lebanon, according to Insan, a local human rights organization. None of these women were accused of violating their visas by working for multiple employers, and Insan has not documented a similar pattern of deportations of women without children living outside their employer’s home. Human Rights Watch spoke with three of the migrant domestic workers with children who have been deported, and corroborated their stories with local nongovernmental organizations and a community leader.

“Working in Lebanon doesn’t mean that these women lose the right to start a family,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These deportations throw families’ lives into turmoil and punish workers for no reason.”

The women told Human Rights Watch by phone that the deportations had a devastating effect on their lives, cutting off their ability to work, splitting up families, and interrupting their children’s education. Some of these women had lived in Lebanon for decades, with children who were born and grew up here.

“Monika,” who after working in Lebanon for more than 20 years was detained and then deported along with her 16-year-old daughter in early 2017, told Human Rights Watch: “Now my daughter is not in school, and we have no work, and now life is too difficult for us here in India. For us, eating is difficult.”

In December 2016, “Kumari” was detained and subsequently deported with her daughter, 14, after working in Lebanon for 30 years. Her husband remained in Lebanon for work, splitting their family apart. “What did we do? Did we steal? Did we kill someone?” she asked. “I worked for people [in Lebanon] all my life, for 32 years. We worked, worked, me and my husband, to put our children through school, to pay money to educate them there, and they treat us like that?”

Sources within General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, confirmed to nongovernmental groups in 2014 that the agency had issued a new directive to deny residency permit renewals to Lebanon-born children of low-wage migrants and their parents.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch found that several migrant domestic workers with children were denied residency renewal. Some were told they were not allowed to have children in Lebanon and given a short period of time to leave the country. At the time, General Security did not respond to written requests from nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, for a copy of the 2014 directive.

The detentions and deportations largely ceased in the summer of 2015, but apparently resumed in summer 2016, Insan said, with dozens of migrant domestic workers with children summoned to General Security offices and then detained or denied residency renewal.

Human Rights Watch wrote to General Security about these deportations on March 20, and the agency responded on April 19, stating that “General Security did not deport or send away any domestic worker with a child that she wanted to bring with her,” but that a migrant domestic worker giving birth to a child in Lebanon would be “difficult to achieve without violating many laws and regulations” and “the persistence of violations of applicable laws in any country would set its inevitable outcome on the transgressor.” Human Rights Watch wrote to General Security on April 20 seeking clarification as to the meaning of their statement, but did not receive a response.

Related Content

General Security should publish its current policy regarding migrant domestic workers with children, Human Rights Watch said.

Lebanese authorities have previously deported migrant domestic workers with minimal notice or process for seemingly arbitrary reasons. On December 10, 2016, International Human Rights Day, Lebanon deported Sujana Rana, a Nepalese migrant domestic worker who was involved in advocating for the rights of domestic workers and organizing a migrant domestic workers union.

The estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from labor law protections, and a kafala (visa-sponsorship) system subjects them to restrictive immigration rules, placing them at risk of exploitation and abuse. The large majority of these workers are women, who typically have short-term contracts and are expected to live in their employer’s home.

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon commonly report non-payment of wages, forced confinement, employers’ refusal to provide time off, and verbal and physical abuse. In 2010, Human Rights Watch found that Lebanon’s judiciary failed to hold employers accountable for these abuses. In 2008, Human Rights Watch found that migrant domestic workers were dying at a rate of one per week, with suicide and attempted escapes the leading causes of death.

Under Lebanese residency regulations, certain categories of low-wage migrants, particularly domestic workers, are not allowed to sponsor residency for their spouses or children. However, in the past, migrant domestic workers could apply for year-long residency permits for their Lebanon-born children up until age 4, and then could apply for residency if the child was enrolled in school. According to two Lebanese lawyers and Insan, General Security requires migrant domestic workers to live in their employer’s home, though no Lebanese law requires this.

Lebanon is obligated under article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family. The 2014 General Security directive and its implementation result in disproportionate interference in family life, in particular the separation of families through expulsion. Furthermore, Lebanon has an obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to avoid “expulsions of non-citizens, especially of long-term residents, that would result in disproportionate interference with the right to family life.”

Children have a right to, as far as possible, be cared for by their parents, and the right to family relations without unlawful and disproportionate interference. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires countries to “ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when ... such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.”

In any proceeding that could lead to the separation of children from their parents, all interested parties, including the children, should be given an opportunity to participate and make their views known, and any separation must be subject to judicial review. The convention also says that countries should deal with questions of parents or children entering a country for the purposes of family unity “in a positive, humane, and expeditious manner.” Lebanon is required under the convention to secure the rights to all children within its jurisdiction, without “discrimination of any kind.”

The Lebanese government should comply with its international obligations by ensuring that General Security considers the family interests involved and the best interests of the child before rejecting the renewal of residency for workers or their children or considering their expulsion, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the ILO Domestic Workers Convention to safeguard the rights of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.

“Lebanese authorities should immediately stop deportations or detention of migrant domestic workers for having children in Lebanon,” Fakih said. “Having a child in Lebanon should not be treated like a crime, and the people who come to take care of Lebanese citizens for years should be allowed to have families as well.”

Qatar: Don’t Deport Saudi Activist

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(Beirut) – Qatari authorities should not deport a prominent Saudi human rights activist who would be at risk of a long prison sentence and possible ill-treatment if forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said today. The activist, Mohammed al-Oteibi, fled to neighboring Qatar in March 2017. He is on trial in Saudi Arabia based on charges related solely to his peaceful human rights work.


Mohammad al-Otaibi is facing criminal charges along with Abdullah al-Attawi for forming a short-lived human rights organization in 2013.

© 2016 Private

Al-Oteibi and Abullah al-Attawi, another Saudi activist, face a series of vague charges relating to a short-lived human rights organization they set up in 2013. Human Rights Watch has documented allegations that Saudi officials at detention facilities sometimes subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment, including at detention facilities run by Saudi Arabia’s Public Security Department (police) and by the General Directorate of Investigation (al-Mabahith).

“No one should be sent back to face an unfair trial and possible ill-treatment based on peaceful human rights work,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East executive director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatari authorities should protect Mohammed al-Oteibi and decline possible Saudi requests to return him.”

Al-Oteibi told Human Rights Watch that Saudi Mabahith officials contacted him on April 19 and 20 requesting his location, and that he informed them that he is in Qatar. His next trial session is in Riyadh on April 25.

The charges against al-Oteibi include “participation in forming an association and announcing it before acquiring the necessary license,” “participation in drafting, issuing, and signing a number of statements …over internet networks that include offending the reputation of the kingdom...,” and “making international human rights organizations hostile to the kingdom by publishing on a social media site false reports about the kingdom...”

Though all the founders of the organization in mid-2013 signed a pledge to halt all human rights activism, the charge sheet states that after monitoring his compliance with the pledge, “it became clear that [Mohammad al-Oteibi] continued with his previous path and a number of his violations of it were documented…” The “violations” the charge sheet goes on to lay out, however, refer only to activities that supposedly occurred prior to the pledge, including “meeting members of and sympathizers with the dissolved [Saudi Association on Civil and Political Rights] ...the last meeting of which occurred on September 14, 2013.”

  Related Content Of the charges against the two men, one is tied to a violation of article 6 of the Saudi cybercrime law, which proscribes “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network,” and imposes penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 3 million Saudi Riyals (US$800,000). Human Rights Watch documented Saudi Arabia’s use of its abusive cybercrime law to punish dissidents and activists in its 2016 report 140 Characters.

Similar cases in the past against human rights activists have resulted in prison sentences of between five and 15 years.

Qatar’s return of al-Oteibi might amount to refoulement, which violates the prohibition in customary international law on returning a person to a real risk of persecution – where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion or where there is real risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment or other serious violations of their human rights.

“Saudi Arabia regularly charges its domestic critics with harming the reputation of the country, but prosecutions like this do far more damage to the country’s reputation and often prove that its critics’ complaints are spot on,” Whitson said.

Colombia: Activists at Risk

Human Rights Watch - Monday, April 24, 2017


Henry Pérez, a local campesino leader, was last seen in late January in the norteastern zone of El Catatumbo, Colombia.


(Washington, DC) The Colombian government should redouble its efforts to protect rights defenders and community activists and to investigate killings of activists in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The peace process poses an invaluable opportunity to reinstate the rule of law in areas long battered by violence and abuses,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But peace and rights are unlikely to flourish if abuses dissuade rights defenders from playing their indispensable role.”

Activists killed in 2017 include José Yimer Cartagena Usuga, whose body was found with stab wounds in Carepa, Antioquia, on January 10. Cartagena was the vice-president of a local farmer’s organization and a member of the human rights commission of Marcha Patriotica, a national left-wing political and social movement.

Feiver Cerón, the president of a local council, was found dead in Mercaderes, Cauca, on February 18. Initial investigations reported that his body had 11 bullet wounds, according to a local rights group.

On January 30, Alan Jara, the director of Colombia’s Victim Unit, said that 17 civic leaders had been killed since November 30, 2016, when Congress approved the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As of late March, Somos Defensores, one of Colombia’s leading groups reporting abuses against activists, has received allegations that 25 community leaders and civil society activists have been killed since 2017 began and has confirmed that 20 were indeed civil society activists. Somos Defensores had yet to confirm whether the remaining five were activists.

The office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia reported that 60 leading rights defenders were killed in 2016, a significant increase from the 41 it had documented in 2015. Somos Defensores reported 80 killings in 2016 and 63 in 2015. Most of the victims had not received threats and were not under government protection.

Somos Defensores and the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia consider anyone who individually or collectively seeks to promote or protect rights, including workers’ rights or social rights, to be a rights defender. However, both organizations only report killings of defenders they deem to have a leading role. Neither organization determines whether the murder was a response to the activist’s work, which they leave for Colombian authorities to determine.

The only way to ensure that rights activists are not dissuaded from carrying out their key role in securing a just and durable peace in Colombia is to ensure that these cases are thoroughly investigated and that the killers are brought to justice. José Miguel Vivanco

Americas director

Among those suspected to have been victims of foul play in 2016 is Henry Pérez, the president of a community organization, who was reported missing in late January 2016 from the northeastern municipality of Tibú. Pérez has yet to be found and his disappearance remains unsolved. His wife has received threatening demands to stop looking for him, according to a report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, a unit of the Organization of American States that monitors peace policies in Colombia.   Numerous abuses against rights activists have been committed in areas where FARC used to have military presence. As FARC demobilizes, crime and activities by other armed groups have surged in many of these areas, especially where illegal mining and drug trafficking are profitable. Among the municipalities that had FARC presence and with high levels of abuses against activists are Tumaco, in Nariño; El Tambo, in Cauca; and El Bagre, in Antioquia. According to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia, more than 60 percent of the killings they reported took place in areas where FARC previously had a military presence. On March 3, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said that the access by other armed groups to territories formerly controlled by FARC has exposed rights activists to abuses.   Somos Defensores and the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia report that most of the killings appear to have been committed by paramilitary successor groups, some of which emerged after a flawed demobilization process of paramilitary death squads a decade ago. However, delays in investigating some cases have meant persistent uncertainty about who the killers are. While the Attorney General’s Office made significant progress in 2016, achieving four convictions on cases involving activists killed that year, no one has been charged for most of such killings in 2016 and 2015.   “The only way to ensure that rights activists are not dissuaded from carrying out their key role in securing a just and durable peace in Colombia is to ensure that these cases are thoroughly investigated and that the killers are brought to justice,” Vivanco said.

Germany/Egypt: Agreement Risks Complicity in Abuses

Human Rights Watch - Monday, April 24, 2017

(Berlin) – The German parliament should reject a proposed security agreement with the Egyptian Interior Ministry, Human Rights Watch said today. The agreement, which is scheduled for a vote on April 28, 2017, lacks human rights protections and would be with a security agency whose officers have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and most likely extrajudicial killings. As a result, it could make German officials complicit in serious human rights violations.


Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands following a news conference at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt on March 2, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The agreement would establish cooperation in a number of fields most important in combating terrorism. It obliges the authorities of both countries to cooperate in investigations, share information about suspects, and carry out joint operations. It includes only the vaguest reference to “upholding human rights” and lacks any effective guarantee that the major human rights abuses by Egyptian security agencies will end.

“If the German government wants to help protect German and Egyptian citizens from terrorism while respecting human rights, this is a terrible way of going about it,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should be getting cast-iron guarantees that Egypt is calling a halt to its abuses, not rushing to put its agents next to Egyptian forces on the front line of repression.”

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar signed the agreement with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, in July 2016, but it remains subject to approval by the German Bundestag.

The agreement says it is aimed at combating terrorism and organized crime. It lays out 22 fields in which various German authorities, including the Interior Ministry and federal police, would cooperate with the Egyptian Interior Ministry. They include preventing and combating corruption, human trafficking, drug and weapons smuggling, and money laundering.

Under the agreement, Germany and Egypt would exchange experts on crime prevention, share information on suspects and the structure of criminal groups, carry out “operational measures” in the presence of the partner government’s agents, and share staff and material to assist “operational investigations.”

Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a decades-long history of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, in violation of both international and Egyptian law and with little or no accountability. Officers of the ministry’s National Security Agency, which has primary responsibility for countering terrorism, have committed most of these abuses, especially in cases in which detainees have been accused of terrorism, which Egyptian law defines broadly. The authorities regularly use allegations of terrorism to criminalize peaceful dissent.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency in response to two Islamic State church bombings on April 9 expanded the National Security Agency’s already wide powers.

It allows the authorities to arrest and search suspects without warrants, conduct limitless surveillance, censor any publication, seize property, restrict public meetings, and set opening and closing times for businesses. Perhaps most worrying, prosecutors can send cases to Emergency State Security Courts, whose trials do not meet international fair trial standards and whose rulings are not subject to appeal.

Egypt’s counterterrorism laws are drawn very broadly and used against peaceful protesters and other political opponents who have faced trial based on nothing more than the unsubstantiated testimony of National Security agents. Most recently, prosecutors used them against a human rights lawyer who represented clients of police abuse. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly making threatening posts on his Facebook page.

Egypt’s penal code defines terrorism broadly as “any use of force or violence or any threat or intimidation to disturb public order or jeopardize the safety and security of society, if it would harm or spread terror among individuals or expose their lives, freedoms or security to danger.” Terrorism can also include threats to “disrupt the implementation of the constitution or laws.”

The requirements of the proposed agreement aimed at guaranteeing cooperation in combating terrorism would almost certainly lead to German security agents assisting the Egyptian National Security Agency, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the systematic use of torture by police and National Security agents to elicit confessions and punish detainees. In 2011, Human Rights Watch determined that “the government is failing miserably to provide victims of torture and ill-treatment effective remedy, or to deter such abuses from occurring in the future.” Egypt’s inadequate legal framework for punishing torture, the lack of an independent body to investigate the police, and prosecutors’ near-total deference to National Security agents have all contributed to this impunity.

The number of enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial killings by National Security agents has risen sharply since al-Sisi appointed Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar as interior minister in March 2015. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented that National Security agents probably killed at least four and possibly as many as 10 men in North Sinai whom they had forcibly disappeared. The authorities then appeared to stage a fake counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.

The proposed agreement also runs counter to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions about Egypt in 2013, in the wake of the mass killings of at least 1,185 protesters by Egyptian security forces. The council suspended export licenses to Egypt for any equipment that might be used for internal repression and decided to review all security assistance to Egypt.

In August 2014, Human Rights Watch concluded that the mass killings of 2013, overseen by then-Defense Minister al-Sisi and primarily carried out by Interior Ministry forces, probably amounted to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch said that United Nations member countries should suspend all security assistance to Egypt until the government adopted measures to end serious human rights violations and hold violators accountable, and should avoid complicity in abuses committed by Egyptian authorities.

No government official or member of the security forces has been held accountable for the killings, and prosecutors have opened no investigation. An executive summary of a government fact-finding report released in November 2014 did not recommend charges. Hundreds of people arrested during the fatal protest dispersals in 2013 remain on trial on charges that include joining an armed group, killing security forces, and blocking roads.

The proposed agreement also contains troubling provisions on information sharing. It does set rules for protecting personal data and states that the agreement is not meant to provide information “to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” But the agreement would require the partner agencies to inform each other – verbally in urgent cases – when one agency requests information “about the particulars of those involved in criminal offenses, structures of offender groups and criminal organizations and the links between them” and to help “track down the offenders.” This provision raises the possibility that the Egyptian Interior Ministry will use its German partners to obtain information about political opponents who have not committed a crime.

The agreement also appears to encourage voluntary sharing of information “which may be of importance to track down” terrorism suspects in the absence of a request.

Despite the reference to “upholding human rights,” the agreement states clearly that cooperation will be governed by each country’s respective national law and makes no reference to international law regarding arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, or extrajudicial killings. The fact that no National Security officer has ever received a final conviction for torture or ill-treatment shows that Egyptian national law has proven inadequate for preventing these abuses.

China: Don’t Force 8 Refugees Back to North Korea

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, April 23, 2017

(Seoul) – China should immediately disclose the whereabouts of eight North Korean refugees currently detained in China, publicly pledge that none of them will be returned to North Korea, and provide them with asylum or allow departure to a third country of their choice, Human Rights Watch said today. North Koreans who are forced back after fleeing their country face a real risk of torture, sexual violence and abuse, incarceration in forced labor camps, and public executions, making them refugees sur place in the need of urgent protection.


A North Korean soldier keeps watch at the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea, which borders Dandong in China's Liaoning province, April 15, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Aly Song

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labor – and even worse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government in Beijing should respect its obligations under the Refugee Convention by protecting these eight North Koreans, and under no circumstances force them back to North Korea.”

Chinese government officials detained a group of eight North Koreans in mid-March 2017 during what appeared to be a random check on a road in northeastern China. A Christian pastor following the travel progress of the group told Human Rights Watch that the group had gathered in Shenyang city, in Liaoning province. Traffic police stopped their vehicle in the middle of the night, and after realizing the travelers did not have valid identification documents, took the group to a local police station.

While waiting inside their vehicle parked outside of the police station, they contacted the pastor, and sent him desperate voice messages and video recordings asking for help from Chinese President Xi Jinping and other world leaders. One of the members said, “Please, please help us. If we are sent to North Korea, we die. Please save us.”  Soon after they sent those messages, the group was taken by police into the station for questioning.

Several hours later, refugees contacted “Kwon,” the pseudonym of one of the group member’s 18-year-old son, who has lived in South Korea since 2013. Then after another few hours, a member of the group contacted Kwon and told him his mother had collapsed under the pressure of the detention, and that the police had taken her to the hospital. Afterwards a Korean-speaking officer walked in and confiscated their cell phones. However, one group member hid a cell phone and later texted the pastor to tell him. The following day, the group contacted Kwon for the last time, and said the police had brought his mother back to the prison. At the beginning of April, the pastor heard from people he knows in China that the group was still in China, held close to the original location where they were detained, but he and Kwon could not get official confirmation of the exact whereabouts of the group. The pastor and Kwon fear the group could face immediate forced return to North Korea, saying they believe most repatriations happen within two months after detention.

The pastor said among the group are two women who said they had previously been sold to Chinese men and faced beatings at their hands. Those two women managed to escape their captors, but they had nowhere to go Two other women suffered injuries that they couldn’t treat in China because they couldn’t go to the hospital given their undocumented status: one woman had badly hurt her head, hip, and back in a recent traffic accident and the other is Kwon’s mother, who had been sick for several years with an unknown disease. Her health situation has worsened in the past few months.

The government in Beijing should respect its obligations under the Refugee Convention by protecting these eight North Koreans, and under no circumstances force them back to North Korea. Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Activists and family members have reported to Human Rights Watch at least 41 detentions of North Koreans in China over the past nine months, including a teenager, a 10-year-old child, and a woman who is seven-months pregnant. Based on information received from family members, Human Rights Watch believes at least nine of these people were forcibly returned to North Korea. However, Human Rights Watch does not have reliable estimates of the total overall number of North Koreans returned to North Korea by the Chinese government. Forcing North Koreans back to North Korea amounts to refoulement, or the sending of persons back to territory where they face serious human rights violations (persecution) or torture, a practice forbidden by international treaties to which China is a party.

According to testimonies received by Human Rights Watch from North Koreans who have been apprehended in China and returned to North Korea, the North Korean government treats those who leave the country without permission harshly upon repatriation.

In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013, or with contacts inside the country, have told Human Rights Watch that people repatriated by China, who were caught trying to go to South Korea, can face seven to fifteen years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso – re-education correctional facilities), incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), or even execution. Those who had been illegally living in China may be sentenced to more than two years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that they torture every single returnee to find out where they had been in China, who they had contacted, and what activities they had done.

Political prison camps in North Korea are characterized by systematic abuses and often deadly conditions, including meager rations that lead to near starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment – including sexual assault and torture by guards, and executions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high. Detainees in ordinary prison camps face forced labor, food and medicine shortages, and regular mistreatment by guards.

The 2014 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that those fleeing the country are targeted as part of a “systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK…to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.” It also found that “almost all of the repatriated people are subjected to inhumane acts. The torture, sexual violence and inhumane conditions of detention that victims endure during the search and initial interrogation phase appear to be based on standard procedures.”

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a 1986 border protocol. However, regardless of the reasons they initially leave the country, North Koreans are virtually guaranteed extremely abusive treatment if forced back, qualifying them as refugees sur place or refugees because of circumstances post-dating their departure.

China, as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1984 Convention against Torture, is specifically obliged not to return refugees when that may put them at risk of persecution or torture. The same obligations bind China as a matter of customary international law.

Human Rights Watch calls on China to immediately stop forced repatriation of North Koreans, and to allow the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to exercise its mandate. China should provide asylum to North Korean refugees, give them the option to seek resettlement in a third country, or allow them to pass through Chinese territory without fear of arrest or forcible repatriation.

In December 2016, the Security Council discussed for a third year in a row the human rights situation in North Korea as a threat to international peace and security. Last month, the UN Human Rights Council passed without a vote a resolution that strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute the continued pervasive abuse of human rights by the North Korean government.

“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” said Robertson. “The world is watching to see whether Beijing observes its duty to protect these eight refugees or becomes complicit with North Korea’s abuses.”


Algeria: Inadequate Response to Domestic Violence

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, April 23, 2017

(Beirut) – Police inaction, insufficient shelter space, and ineffective investigation and prosecution often leave domestic violence survivors in Algeria at risk of further mistreatment despite a new law criminalizing spousal abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 59-page report, “‘Your Destiny is to Stay with Him’: State Response to Domestic Violence in Algeria,” found that domestic violence survivors face an uphill struggle to obtain justice and personal security. They face social stigma, economic dependence on the abusers, a shortage of shelters, lack of an adequate response from the police, the prosecutors, and the judges in investigating abuse, and judicial hurdles such as unreasonable evidentiary requirements. Algerian authorities should increase support for domestic violence victims, including directing police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute cases, and increasing shelter capacity and protection orders to prevent abusers from inflicting further harm.

Police inaction, insufficient shelter space, and ineffective investigation and prosecution often leave domestic violence survivors in Algeria at risk of further mistreatment despite a new law criminalizing spousal abuse.

“Victims of domestic violence have long faced the double injustice of abuse at home and then a meager response from the government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Algeria’s new law on domestic violence is only a start.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 women survivors of domestic violence, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and service providers for survivors, including lawyers and psychologists. Human Rights Watch also requested meetings and specific information from the government but received no reply.


A woman at Dar al-Insania, an NGO-run shelter in the eastern city of Annaba on March 3, 2010. Dar al-Insania provides women victims of domestic violence, among others, with shelter and services. 

© 2010 Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

In December 2015, parliament adopted Law no. 15-19, amending the penal code to specifically criminalize some forms of domestic violence and increase penalties for those responsible. The penal code had previously treated domestic violence under general provisions on assault. Law no. 15-19 makes assault against a spouse or former spouse punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by a life sentence if the attack results in death. The law criminalizes other forms of domestic violence, including psychological and some economic abuse.

Survivors of domestic violence face various hurdles when they try to leave abusive relationships, including social pressure to keep their families together. Even though they have serious injuries, several women told Human Rights Watch that their relatives encouraged them to reconcile with their husbands. The police often gave them the same advice, telling them it is a “private matter” and ignoring the legal provisions criminalizing the abuse. Several lawyers told Human Rights Watch that because of these and other hurdles, most survivors either do not press charges or drop their complaints at the investigative stage.

Hasna, a 31-year-old mother of four, told Human Rights Watch that her husband started beating her when she was pregnant. In September 2014, during a dispute, he threw her against the wall, and slapped and punched her in the face. She went in her pajamas to a police station, where a policeman told her: “This is a family matter. This is not our business. This is your husband. Maybe he was angry. He will come back to his senses. Go and find some elders who can calm things down.”

Even when they record the complaint, police often follow up inadequately. Human Rights Watch found that the police often do not conduct on-site investigations or interview witnesses, and that the police give credence too readily to the husband’s account of the incident.

The government should increase availability of essential services – including shelters – for domestic violence victims. Parliament should adopt a law empowering judicial authorities to issue “protective orders” against suspected abusers to prevent them from inflicting further harm on family members. Parliament should amend a provision of the domestic violence law that pressures victims to help abusers escape criminal accountability by making it possible to end judicial proceedings against an accused abuser if their victim pardons them.

Salwa, 39, said she filed a complaint against her husband the day that he severely lacerated her breasts with scissors and beat her. When she went back to the police to inquire about the investigation, they told her: “We called your husband. He said you fell down, and this is why you have these bruises.” She said they told her they were closing the case.

When women decide to leave abusive husbands or partners, they usually have few if any places to go. While shelters should be a vital part of protecting victims of domestic violence, Algeria, a country of 41 million, has only three government-run shelters specialized in helping women victims of violence. Private shelters run by nongovernmental groups receive no government funding and struggle to provide services.

The new law criminalizing domestic violence is a positive step, Human Rights Watch said. Algerian authorities should now adopt comprehensive legislation and policies to prevent domestic violence and support victims. They should enact a new law giving victims the possibility to seek protective orders from both the police and the courts. The orders can, among other things, require the suspected offender to vacate the home, stay away from the victim and their children, surrender weapons, and refrain from violence, threats, damaging property, or contacting the victim. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women, considers such orders, which can be imposed before the suspected offender faces trial, among the most effective measures to fight violence against women.

Authorities should also ensure that police and prosecutors are directed to investigate domestic violence and bring cases to trial and get adequate training.
Criminalizing domestic violence can only go so far in tackling a problem whose causes are deep and go beyond the criminal justice system. Sarah Leah Whitson

Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch

Given that oral testimony in domestic violence cases often provides an insufficient basis to convict, the authorities should develop guidelines on admitting other types of evidence in domestic violence cases, such as victim statements, expert witnesses, and medical, photographic, and physical evidence.

The government should increase the availability of essential services – including shelters – for domestic violence victims.

“Criminalizing domestic violence can only go so far in tackling a problem whose causes are deep and go beyond the criminal justice system,” Whitson said. “This is why adopting the 2015 Algerian law on domestic violence should jump-start a process of carrying out comprehensive measures to put an end to this plague."

Equatorial Guinea: Free Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Watch - Friday, April 21, 2017

(Nairobi, April 21, 2017) – Equatorial Guinean authorities should immediately release two men who head the country’s leading human rights organization, seven human rights and transparency organizations said.

The police detained Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, who head the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), on April 17, 2017, and have exceeded the 72-hour period that Equatorial Guinean law permits them to detain a person without charge.

“The authorities have a long history of harassing, arbitrarily detaining, and generally interfering with the work of human rights defenders in Equatorial Guinea,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, which monitors human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea. “This latest incident shows the authorities’ willingness to trample on the country’s due process laws to intimidate and silence dissent.”


Alfredo Okenve was a speaker at the International Anti-Corruption Conference held in Panamá in December 2016

The organizations raising their concerns about the detention are Human Rights Watch, EG Justice, Publish What You Pay, Transparency International, the UNCAC Coalition, Amnesty International, and the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

Asumu is the president, and Okenve vice president, of CEID. On April 16, authorities prevented Asumu from boarding a flight from the country’s island capital, Malabo, to the mainland city of Bata, claiming they were acting on the orders of the minister of national security, said a colleague of Asumu’s who was present and Asumu’s lawyer.

The following day, Asumu and Okenye visited the ministry’s offices, which are housed in same building as the Central Police Station in Malabo. The national security minister interrogated the two men in his office for more than five hours, said two colleagues who accompanied them to the meeting and waited outside. After the meeting ended, at about 6 p.m., the authorities prevented Asumu and Okenve from leaving the building, and they continue to hold them there.

The police have permitted the colleagues, as well as family members, to visit Asumu and Okenve, and have allowed them access to their lawyers. But the authorities have not brought them before a judge, which the law requires within 24 hours. Nor have the authorities charged them, which under Equatorial Guinean law must take place within 72 hours.

The Ministry of the Interior ordered CEID to suspend its activities indefinitely in March 2016. Colleagues who have spoken with Asumu and Okenve said that the authorities have threatened to fine them 10 million CFA francs (US$16,000) for violating this order.

The ministry issued the order after shutting down a youth meeting that it contends included statements by participants that constituted incitement, a charge CEID maintains is false and politically motivated. The organization appealed the suspension order, but received no response, a representative from the organization said.

The organization announced that it would resume its activities in September 2016. A representative of the organization contended that the April 2016 suspension of its operations was effective only for three months. Since then, it has organized events attended by representatives from various government ministries.

The government of Equatorial Guinea is applying to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an effort that brings together governments, companies, and nongovernmental groups to encourage better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about the use of oil, gas, and mining revenues. The EITI requires member governments to foster “an enabling environment for civil society” and to “refrain from actions which result in narrowing or restricting public debate in relation to implementation of the EITI.”

Equatorial Guinea has been dogged by corruption scandals exacerbated by the lack of transparency related to natural resource revenues. The suspension of the country’s leading organization promoting transparency and respect for human rights, and the detention of its leadership, send the wrong signal about the government’s commitment to combatting corruption, the groups said.

“These detentions make the government’s promises to respect civil society as part of its bid to join EITI ring hollow,” said Elisa Peter, executive director of Publish What You Pay. “They threaten to topple the country’s EITI candidacy and send the message that the government will not tolerate independent voices.”

When CEID resumed its activities in September 2016, it also resumed its role as a member of the national steering committee that involves government officials, oil companies, and civil society as the first stage in applying for EITI membership. The national steering committee last met on April 12, and the minister of mines attended an event the human rights group held on April 14 in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.

“The government works with CEID when it wants to feign respect for civil society, but then keeps this suspension order hanging over it like the sword of Damocles,” said Sarah Saadoun, a business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By bullying two of the country’s most respected human rights defenders, the government seems to be trying to silence civil society at a moment of rising anger over the country’s deepening economic crisis.”