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US: Budget Cuts Put Public Housing Tenants at Risk

Human Rights Watch - 12 hours 43 min ago
Click to expand Image Ramona Ferreyra looks out at the public housing development where she lives in the Bronx borough of New York. January 28, 2022. © 2022 Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Decades of inadequate federal funding have jeopardized the living conditions of public housing residents and exacerbated the affordable housing crisis, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 63-page report, “‘We Deserve to Have a Place to Live:’ How US Underfunding Public Housing Harms Rights in New York, New Mexico, and Beyond,” examines the impact of a decline in federal funding for public housing, which has been accompanied by a modest increase in investment in affordable housing programs that rely on the private sector, such as voucher and subsidy programs. Human Rights Watch found that budget cuts have led to deteriorating living conditions in public housing in New York City, as well as in northern New Mexico, and have reduced the public housing stock nationwide. It also finds that other affordable housing programs, which rely on the private sector, have often failed to guarantee long-term affordability for people with the lowest incomes.

September 27, 2022 “We Deserve to Have a Place to Live”

“Compared to other federal housing programs, public housing is especially important for providing affordable homes to those with low incomes,” said Jackson Gandour, a fellow in the Economic Justice and Rights division at Human Rights Watch. “Underfunding has not only put public housing tenants at risk, but it has forced many people to pay unaffordable rents on the private market as they languish on housing assistance waiting lists.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed a total of 37 tenants in 2 markedly different public housing authorities: the New York City Housing Authority, the largest public housing authority in the United States, and the Northern Regional Housing Authority, a small public housing authority in northern New Mexico. Human Rights Watch also interviewed various housing policy experts and analyzed data from government agencies as well as research and civil society organizations.

About one million people in the US call public housing home. It is a critical resource for low-income people across the country, especially older people, people with disabilities, and people of color. This has become especially true in recent years, as the US continues to face severe shortages of affordable housing. There is not a single county in the US where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In both New York City and New Mexico, residents testified to the importance of public housing in their lives.

Jasmin Sanchez, a public housing resident in New York City, said that public housing gave her family stability and helped her pursue an education. “They no longer had to worry about not having a place to live,” she said. Multiple residents in New Mexico described coming into public housing after facing either inadequate housing or homelessness. “We were homeless, and somebody told us about the housing, so we put in an application, and we got a home right away,” one resident said.

Many long-term residents in New York also described a time when living conditions in public housing were far better. “The buildings were clean; the grounds were clean,” one resident said. “If there was a problem in your apartment or you needed something fixed, usually [maintenance workers] came the same day.” Another resident said: “When I first came here, it was so beautiful, I thought I was in paradise.”

Conditions in some public housing developments in the US have deteriorated in recent decades, as Congress slashed public housing budgets. Public housing authorities receive most of their funding from the federal government, and between 2000 and 2021, funding for major repairs declined by about 35 percent in real terms. Funding for day-to-day operations and maintenance has also been consistently inadequate to meet operating needs. A 1998 law called the Faircloth Amendment sharply restricts the use of federal funds to construct new public housing, stripping localities of a potential tool to address chronic affordable housing shortages.

Across the country, about 10,000 public housing apartments are lost each year due to deterioration. Residents in both New York and New Mexico noted worsening living conditions, and in some cases, residents described issues with their homes that posed possible threats to their health. One New York resident said she struggled for months to get a repair for a leak in her apartment that was causing wall damage and mold. “If it’s something big and major like that they try to avoid it,” she said. “It’s literally years of neglect and deterioration.”

Multiple residents in both New Mexico and New York described waiting months or even years for repairs. Catherine Parker, who lives in Taos, New Mexico, described numerous issues with her home, including mold, ant infestations, and wall damage. She said that maintenance has been unresponsive. “I don’t expect things to be done right away,” she said. “I understand that I’m not the only place. But I expect a response.”

Underscoring the chronic shortage of affordable housing in the US, multiple residents said that they had tried to move out of public housing but were unable to find an affordable option. “If I could get out of here I would,” Parker said. “If I could get out of Taos I would.”

As budgets for public housing have declined, the federal government has increased funding for affordable housing programs that rely on the private sector, such as tenant vouchers and tax credits for developers of affordable housing. However, these programs, compared with public housing, often fail to provide sufficiently affordable homes over the long term.

Homes built using the low-income housing tax credit program, the largest supply-side affordable housing program in the US, are, for instance, typically less affordable than public housing. Moreover, the program’s affordability protections are temporary: over 400,000 tax-credit apartments, roughly 20 percent of the stock, will lose their affordability protections by 2030.

The federal government, as well as state and local authorities, should increase funding for public housing, and Congress should repeal the Faircloth Amendment, Human Rights Watch said. The federal government should also expand support for all housing assistance programs while making any necessary revisions to ensure that they most effectively serve low-income households.

“Public housing plays a crucial role in fulfilling the human right to housing, as it can provide dignified homes to all, regardless of income,” Gandour said. “By restoring adequate funding, the US can uphold its international obligations and take an important step toward addressing the country’s housing crisis.”

Japan Should Strengthen New Business and Human Rights Guidelines

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022
Click to expand Image Shipping cranes on a wharf inside the Tokyo Bay. © 2022 Sipa USA via AP

Japan’s recently adopted guidelines on responsible use of supply chains are a missed opportunity to entrench strong human rights requirements in a global business superpower.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Guidelines on Respect for Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chain, part of a global trend towards greater government oversight of businesses’ human rights impacts, could have been a much-needed tool to address Japanese companies’ complicity in human rights abuses. Research published in January 2022 by the World Benchmarking Alliance and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre found “a clear gap” between Japanese companies’ on-paper commitments to human rights and actions to protect them. Since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have documented ties between Japanese private and public businesses and the Myanmar military junta, which has killed more than 2,200 people and detained over 15,000.

Unless the guidelines are significantly strengthened, though, Japanese companies will have little reason to change their ways. Human Rights Watch and Japanese civil society groups provided written comments on the draft guidelines, but the guidelines adopted largely ignored these recommendations.

Needed changes include recognition of businesses’ responsibility to respect the full range of human, labor, and environmental rights, including by confronting climate change as a fundamental threat to the rights of present and future generations. The guidelines should also state that businesses should respect rights across their whole value chain and should provide additional guidance on how companies should remediate harms.

The guidelines are nonbinding, which makes then far less likely to prompt Japanese companies toward increased respect for rights. The Japanese government should announce a timeline for the drafting and enactment of binding legislation that enables victims to take legal action against companies implicated in human rights abuses. Although voluntary guidelines can help to clarify companies’ responsibilities, recent history has shown that many companies will only do what laws require of them.

Hungary Should Guarantee Safety of Lesbian Activists During DykeMarch

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022
Click to expand Image Rising anger over policies of Hungary's right-wing government filled the streets of the country's capital as thousands of LGBT activists and supporters marched in the city's Pride parade in Budapest, Hungary, July 2021. © 2021 Anna Szilagyi/AP Images

Hungarian lesbian activists are set to hold their second DykeMarch on October 1, the final day of the EuroCentralAsian Lesbian* Community (EL*C) Conference in Budapest. This year’s conference, “Lesbian Resistance,” will open two weeks after Serbia initially banned EuroPride 2022, the latest in a two-year spate of attacks on Pride marches and other queer events in Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The EL*C conference and DykeMarch come amid ongoing government harassment of lesbian activism in Hungary. In February, an appeals court ruled against Labrisz Lesbian Association, finding that an article in a pro-government newspaper likening lesbian activists to pedophiles did not injure their reputation. This reversed a lower court decision, which deemed the article to be unfounded and offensive.

In June 2021, a Hungarian law criminalized showing “any content portraying or promoting sex reassignment or homosexuality” to children, falsely conflating LGBT rights with pedophilia. In August 2021, a government decree restricted customer access to the children’s book “A Fairytale for Everyone”, published by Labrisz Lesbian Association in 2020, under a new requirement that children's books seen to “promote homosexuality” be sold only in “closed wrapping.” The Labrisz book retells traditional fairytales with queer, feminist characters.

“Having the conference in Budapest means a lot to us,” said Dorottya Redai, an activist with Labrisz. “Labrisz has been fighting against the political oppression of sexual minority women since 1999. Under the current government, we work harder than ever. We hope the Conference will signal to the government that lesbian resistance is powerful and won’t be silenced.”

The EL*C conference and DykeMarch take an intersectional approach, demanding rights for migrants, refugees, Roma communities, and other minority groups. As such, organizers could be at risk vis-a-vis Hungary’s sweeping criminalization in 2018 of migrant and refugee rights defenders. That law, condemned by several United Nations Special Rapporteurs and held by the Court of Justice of the European Union to violate EU law, remains in effect.

Given these wide-ranging attacks on queer, feminist, migrant, and minority rights advocacy, Hungarian authorities should ensure that the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression are protected during the EL*C conference and DykeMarch, and repeal laws that criminalize the work of activists and human rights defenders.

Nepal President Blocks Citizenship Law

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022
Click to expand Image Student activists protest against President Bidya Bhandari’s unwillingness to endorse the Citizenship Bill that was passed by parliament. September 21, 2022 © 2022 Rojan Shrestha/NurPhoto via AP

Nepal’s ceremonial president, Bidiya Bhandari, has refused to endorse a Citizenship Bill passed by parliament, denying an estimated 500,000 people access to citizenship documents and threatening to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis. A deadline for her to sign the law expired last week.

On September 25, the Supreme Court issued a notice asking the president’s office to provide its reasons.

Although the bill perpetuates several discriminatory provisions of previous laws, it provides an important step forward for some who have been denied citizenship. A group of people whose parents were earlier given citizenship “by birth” but who have not received citizenship themselves would be eligible for citizenship “by descent”: a measure that was promised in Nepal’s 2015 Constitution but has not yet been implemented.

According to a 2015 study, more than 4 million people – or 23 percent of the adult population – do not have citizenship papers, denying them basic rights such as the right to vote and access to government services. Many would not benefit from the proposed law.

There were protests on the streets of Kathmandu this week following the president’s decision. “We have been protesting for years ... the Citizenship Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament, but the president withdrew it and darkened our future,” said Indrajit Safi, president of the Citizenshipless Struggle Committee,

The bill does not address longstanding discriminatory provisions that make it harder for children of Nepali women to obtain citizenship than it is for children of Nepali men, affecting the children of single mothers in a variety of circumstances. While the child of a Nepali man is automatically entitled to citizenship, a Nepali woman must prove that the father of her child is Nepali, or declare that he is “unidentified.” If such a declaration is proved to be false, the woman would face prosecution.

There are also provisions that make it harder for the foreign husband of a Nepali woman to acquire citizenship than it is for the foreign wife of a Nepali man.

Politicians justify this discrimination on grounds of defending nationalism and “sovereignty”, but campaigners call it a patriarchal and misplaced “paranoia” which treats women as second class citizens. Many people are effectively rendered stateless as a result.

The government and legal experts say President Bhandari’s attempt to block the law exceeds her powers and violates the constitution. The issue is now before the Supreme Court.

ICC Starts Trial against Central African Republic Rebel Leader

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022
Click to expand Image Mahamat Said Abdel Kani during the confirmation of charges at the pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court on October 12, 2021. © ICC-CPI

Today, the trial of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a former Seleka commander in the Central African Republic, began before International Criminal Court (ICC). Said is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, many of which are said to have occurred at the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (Office Central de Répression du Banditisme, or “OCRB”) in the capital Bangui, between April and November 2013.

In April 2013, Bangui was a war zone. The city had been seized less than a month earlier by an alliance of rebel groups known as the “Seleka Coalition” in a bid to overthrow the government of then President François Bozizé.

As they took power, the Seleka went on a murderous spree across the country, looting, killing, and raping people in their way. I recall speaking with two sisters who were raped by Seleka fighters in their home on March 25, 2013. One sister, who was eight months pregnant, lost her baby the next day. I met men who had survived mass executions by sheer luck and spoke with residents of Bangui’s Boy-Rabe neighborhood where dozens of civilians, including women and children, were killed by Seleka fighters in an April 2013 attack.

Almost ten years later, no high-ranking Seleka leader has been held accountable. Said joins prominent leaders from the anti-balaka militia – the Seleka’s warring opponents – who will also face trial before the ICC. Last month, the court made public an arrest warrant for Noureddine Adam, the former number two of the Seleka, of whom Said was an “immediate subordinate,” according to the ICC. This is positive progress. Adam oversaw Seleka fighters and Human Rights Watch documented how soldiers under his command likely committed atrocities in Bangui and nearby areas. After he fled Bangui, Adam took command of other armed groups, emerging as a prime example of how impunity allows abusive leaders to continue to be implicated in committing crimes.

Said’s trial should be the beginning of accountability for crimes by this group that devasted the Central African Republic so much. Sudan, where Adam is reportedly hiding, should surrender him to the ICC without delay, and the ICC should continue to investigate other top-level Seleka commanders, or the “big fish” as they are called in Bangui.

Lebanon: Syrian Refugee Apparently Tortured to Death

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022
Click to expand Image Bashar Abed Al Saud © 2022 Private

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should transfer the prosecution of security force members charged in the torture and murder of a Syrian refugee from inherently unfair military courts to the ordinary criminal courts, Human Rights Watch, Legal Agenda, Amnesty International, and MENA Rights Group said today.

Members of State Security, one of Lebanon’s intelligence agencies, allegedly tortured Bashar Abed Al Saud, 30, after his arrest on August 30, 2022. He died from his injuries on August 31. On September 2, after news of Al Saud’s death and photographs of his bruised body circulated in the media, the Military Prosecutor Judge Fadi Akiki, arrested and charged a State Security officer and three other members with torture and referred them to the Military Investigative Judge Najat Abu Shaqra. They are being investigated in the military justice system, which lacks independence and includes judges appointed by the defense minister.

“Al Saud’s death during his detention at State Security requires a fair and comprehensive investigation in front of the ordinary judiciary, as the military justice system cannot bring justice for his family,” said Ghida Frangieh, head of litigation at Legal Agenda.

On September 8, Al Saud’s family submitted a torture complaint to the Cassation Public Prosecution through their lawyer Mohammad Sablouh. The prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, referred the case as a violation of Lebanon’s anti-torture law to the military prosecutor. On September 15, Al Saud’s relatives resubmitted a request to refer the file to the ordinary criminal courts, but Judge Oueidat also referred that request to the military prosecutor.

Referring the investigation to the military court is contrary to international law, as interpreted by treaty bodies, and article 15 of Lebanon’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that crimes that members of the judicial police commit while carrying out their duties as assistants to the public prosecution fall solely under the jurisdiction of the ordinary judiciary.

Further, Lebanon’s 2017 anti-torture law also states in its preamble that the regular judiciary alone “has the power to prosecute, investigate, and try” crimes of torture, “excluding any other exceptional criminal courts.” When debating the anti-torture bill in September 2017, Parliament members agreed that there was no need to include this explicitly in the proposed law in light of article 15 of the criminal procedure code.

The jurisdiction of ordinary criminal courts over torture complaints is fundamental to ensuring that victims of crimes under international law, like torture, or human rights violations have the right to an effective remedy, the organizations said. The structure of the military judicial system in Lebanon and its legal procedures mean that security force personnel will not be prosecuted   before a competent, independent, and impartial court.

Most military court judges are military and security services officers, appointed by the defense minister, and are not required to have a law degree or legal training. Human rights organizations and the media cannot monitor military trials without prior permission from the presiding judge. In addition, the Military Justice Law does not allow victims to participate in the trial, and at most considers them potential witnesses.

A member of Al Saud’s family told the organizations that at around 8 p.m. on August 30, about six or seven security agents wearing military clothing arrested Al Saud at his home in the Shatila camp in Beirut, without identifying their agency or saying why he was being arrested. They did not present a judicial arrest order, the relative said.

Al Saud’s relative and Sablouh, his lawyer, said that Al Saud was not allowed to call his family or have a lawyer present during his interrogation, in violation of his due process rights under international law and Lebanon’s Code of Criminal Procedure. His relative said that they did not know Al Saud’s whereabouts until they received a call on September 3 telling them to collect his body from the Tebneen Public Hospital in south Lebanon.

The authorities had transferred Al Saud to the Nabatieh hospital in south Lebanon at around 7 a.m. on August 31, where a forensic report that the organizations reviewed found that Al Saud died as a result of “the stoppage of the central nervous system due intense pain and suffering from violence and severe beatings, which ultimately led to the stopping of his heart and blood circulation.” The forensic report also stated that the doctor found:

blueness and redness in the head near the left ear, a bleeding wound on the right side of the lower lip, remnants of blood in the nostrils, signs of several burns all over the body, many signs indicating the use of a whip or an electric wire in the upper extremities, back, chest, abdomen and lower extremities up to the feet, and swelling in the testicles.

Photographs and a video of Al Saud’s body, which the organizations reviewed, corroborate the forensic report, and show large parts of his body covered in bruises, whip marks, cuts, and burns.

On September 2, a Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar publicized the news of Al Saud’s alleged torture and death, prompting State Security to issue a statement claiming that its forces had arrested Al Saud after members of an Islamic State (ISIS) cell identified him as an accomplice, and that Al Saud had confessed to fighting with ISIS. The statement conceded that Al Saud had died, but it did not address the torture allegations and stated that the agency had referred the case to the “competent judiciary.”

On September 5, State Security released another statement accusing some media outlets of “slandering” the agency and stating that the file had been transferred to the military judiciary and that maximum penalties would be imposed against anyone found to have violated orders.

Human Rights Watch wrote to State Security and the Cassation Public Prosecutor, copying the military prosecutor, on September 6, asking for clarification around the scope of State Security’s mandate in policing suspected terrorism cases and its detention authority; the circumstances and legality of Al Saud’s arrest and detention; and any action that State Security or the prosecution had taken to investigate, suspend, or discipline any State Security member involved in the arrest, interrogation, or alleged torture and ill-treatment of Al Saud. As of September 26, Human Rights Watch has not received a response.

MENA Rights Group submitted Al Saud’s case to several United Nations human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The Cassation Public Prosecution has previously referred torture complaints to the military judiciary in apparent violation of the law. This includes a torture complaint that the actor Ziad Itani submitted in October 2018 against members of State Security, as well as torture complaints from 17 protesters against the security forces in December 2019 in the context of Lebanon’s nationwide protests. The military prosecutor and cassation public prosecutor agreed in April 2019 to transfer Itani’s complaint to the ordinary courts. No one has been charged in these cases.

“Impunity for torture remains commonplace, with dozens of complaints regarding torture and other ill-treatment filed under the 2017 Anti-Torture Law rarely reaching court and most closed without an effective investigation,” said Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is about time that the Lebanese authorities begin to implement the anti-torture law, investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The Lebanese authorities should seriously investigate complaints related to crimes of torture and respect the jurisdiction of regular courts over these crimes, the organizations said. The public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, the government commissioner at the military court, and the military investigative judge should immediately transfer the file about the investigation into  Al Saud’s death to the competent and ordinary criminal judge, the investigative judge in the south, to ensure compliance with Lebanese law and the right of his relatives to an effective remedy.

Further, Lebanon should allocate funds to allow the five members of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture, who were appointed in July 2019, to fulfill their mandate.

“The shocking images of Al Saud’s bruised and gashed body should send a strong message to the Lebanese authorities that they need to be doing much more to combat torture in detention,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for Al Saud’s torture and death should be brought to justice in fair and transparent judicial proceedings.”

Algeria: Free Activist Granted Refugee Status in Tunisia

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 26, 2022

(Tunis) – Algerian authorities should immediately release Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian activist who disappeared a year ago from Tunisia and is now detained under investigation by an Algerian court, and ensure his freedom to leave the country, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

Bouhafs had been living in Tunisia as a refugee and reappeared in Algerian police custody under unclear circumstances. Tunisian authorities should investigate his apparent abduction and forced return to Algeria, and hold anyone found responsible to account.

“Slimane Bouhafs fled Algeria after persecution by authorities, and the UN refugee agency in Tunisia granted him international protection in Tunisia,” said Amna Guellali, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. “The last place Bouhafs should be is back in an Algerian prison, facing possible trial.”

On August 25, 2021, unidentified men in civilian clothes appeared at Bouhafs’ home in Tunis, forced him into a car, and drove away,  the Bouhafs family said, citing information from witnesses. On September 1, 2021, Bouhafs appeared in an Algerian court, where a judge opened a criminal investigation against him for alleged links to the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie, a group that Algeria considers a terrorist organization, and for Facebook posts, in a context of increased criminalization of peaceful activism. Algerian authorities had previously jailed him for two years for comments on Facebook deemed offensive to Islam.

Bouhafs, 55, is an Amazigh (Berber) activist and a Christian convert. In 2016, an Algerian court sentenced him to three years in prison under article 144 bis 2 of the penal code, which criminalizes publicly insulting the prophet Mohamed and denigrating Islam. Bouhafs’ family said that he suffered ill-treatment in prison. In 2018, he was freed by presidential pardon, moved to Tunisia, and applied for asylum with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

A support letter from an Algerian human rights group that Bouhafs’ family shared with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International says that Bouhafs feared that Algerian courts might prosecute him again in retaliation for his activism. UNHCR granted him asylum in 2020 under an agreement between the UNCHR and Tunisian authorities.

Citing his accounts, Bouhafs’ family said that the men who abducted him put a bag over his head, took him by car over the Algerian border and to a police facility in Algiers, and threatened him during the ride.
For four days, Bouhafs’ family did not know his whereabouts. On August 29, they heard through informal contacts that Bouhafs was being held in a police station in Algiers.

On September 1, an investigative judge at the First Instance Court in Sidi M’Hamed, Algiers, remanded Bouhafs to prison pending investigation for 10 charges under Algeria’s penal code. They included  “membership in a terrorist organization” (article 87 bis 3), “glorification of  terrorism” (article 87 bis 4), “undermining the integrity of the national territory” (article 79), “offense against the Prophet [of Islam]” (article 144 bis 2), “publication of false news” (article 196 bis), “inciting hatred and racial discrimination” (article 295 bis), and “obtaining foreign funding” (article 95 bis), according to information from Bouhafs’ lawyers that his family shared with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

On September 20, 2021, UN independent human rights experts asked the Tunisian and Algerian governments to explain any steps they had taken to transfer Bouhafs from Tunisia to Algeria, and any legal grounds for the criminal investigation against him in Algiers.

While Tunisian human rights activists say that President Kais Saied made a verbal promise on September 3, 2021, to investigate Bouhafs’ alleged abduction, Tunisian authorities have made no formal public comment on the matter.

Algeria responded to the UN experts in a letter dated October 7 claiming that Algerian security forces in Tebessa, Algeria, near the Tunisian border, had arrested Bouhafs on August 27 after he had tried to check into a hotel without showing identification. They transferred him to authorities in Algiers after discovering evidence linking him to the Mouvement pour l’autodétermination de la Kabylie (Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie or MAK), Algerian officials said in the letter.

Algeria has designated the group a terrorist organization since May 2021. In the same letter, Algerian authorities detailed accusations against Bouhafs under Algerian law based on messages they say he posted on Facebook. The authorities said they included messages attacking the Algerian state, its symbols, and its institutions, as well as messages praising the MAK and on his alleged communications with members of the group.

However, Algerian authorities have said nothing publicly on how, when, and under what circumstances Bouhafs entered Algeria.

“A year has passed since Slimane Bouhafs disappeared from his country of refuge and reappeared in the custody of the country he had fled, without a word from either government as to whether he was brought there against his will,” said Balkees Jarrah, acting deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Tunisian authorities bore a responsibility under international law to protect Bouhafs, but there is no evidence that they have sought to investigate the matter and hold anyone found to have violated his human rights to account.”

Algerian authorities have refused requests to grant Bouhafs provisional release at least four times, according to his family and one of his lawyers.

Algerian authorities have increasingly used the Algerian penal code’s overbroad definition of terrorism, which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expanded by decree in 2021, to prosecute activists and human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. The authorities  have also recently targeted other critics among the Algerian diaspora with travel bans and extradition.

Both Algeria and Tunisia have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Any restrictions on this right must be proportional and strictly necessary for a legitimate end.  

As a party to the UN and African Refugee Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, Tunisia is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, prohibiting forced returns, expulsions, or extraditions – both of refugees to countries where they could face threats to their lives or freedom, and of anyone to countries where they could face torture. The 1951 Refugee Convention forbids expelling refugees who are lawfully in a contracting state’s territory except on grounds of national security or public order. Even in such cases, decisions should be reached in accordance with due process, unless “compelling reasons of national security otherwise require.”

Articles 6 and 9 of the ICCPR, guaranteeing the rights to life and to security, entail an obligation for governments to protect vulnerable people under their jurisdictions, including refugees. The governments should investigate any instances of forced disappearance and hold anyone found responsible to account, per official guidance on implementing the ICCPR by the UN Human Rights Committee. Article 12 of the ICCPR stipulates that everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own.
 

UN Rights Body Rules Australia Failed to Protect from Climate Change

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, September 25, 2022
Click to expand Image A woman walks past palm trees on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait, August 9, 2006. © 2006 Andrew Mears/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The United Nations Human Rights Committee on September 23 found that the Australian government had violated the rights of Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders by failing to adequately protect them against the adverse impacts of climate change.

The groundbreaking decision of the committee, an independent expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), establishes important protections under international human rights law for climate-affected communities.

The complaint was the first legal action brought by climate-vulnerable inhabitants of low-lying islands against a state. Eight Australian nationals and their children, Indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait region, alleged that Australia failed to implement an adaptation program to ensure the long-term habitability of the islands.

The committee heard that changes in weather patterns harmed the Islanders’ livelihoods, culture, and traditional way of life. Severe flooding caused by tidal surges destroyed family graves, while heavy rainfall and storms degraded the land and reduced the amount of food available from traditional fishing and farming.

The committee found that despite construction of some seawalls on the islands, the Australian government had not taken sufficient steps to protect the Islanders’ homes and livelihoods. The committee also found that that the government had not provided the Islanders with a way to maintain their traditional way of life and transmit their culture to their children.

“States that fail to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change may be violating their human rights under international law,” said Hélène Tigroudja, a committee member.

Under the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, states have an obligation to provide those whose rights have been violated with an effective remedy. The committee ruled Australia should pay adequate compensation to the claimants and secure the communities’ “continued safe existence” on the islands.

The Human Rights Committee decision paves the way for further legal action and compensation claims by other climate-affected communities around the globe. It sends a clear warning to all governments that they need to protect citizens from climate harm, and failure to do so may make them legally liable. To avoid similar violations in the future, the government should immediately adopt robust and rights-respecting climate mitigation and adaptation policies consistent with the best available science.

For the Deaf Community, Sign Language Equals Rights

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 23, 2022
Click to expand Image A deaf worker serves customers using sign language at Serona Kafe, in Bintaro, Banten province, Indonesia. The café deliberately employs deaf people to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities.  © 2022 Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via AP

Today is International Day of Sign Languages, a day to celebrate this unique aspect of Deaf culture but also a time to reflect on the work needed to ensure greater inclusion for this community.

Sign language allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to enjoy rights just like anyone else, they are able to learn, work, and socialize.

Sign language uses hand positions and movement to communicate and has existed for centuries. There are 71 countries that recognize sign language as part of their legal framework and about 300 sign languages in the world.

Around 70 million people are deaf globally, many of whom identify proudly as members of the Deaf community. Some are born deaf, some grow up in communities inheriting sign language from parents, some use sign language as a primary form of communication among members. Deaf culture is diverse and rich.

With so much of our lives online, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, people who are deaf or experience hearing loss may feel alienated from day-to-day activities, such as going to work or communicating with friends and family. They can struggle to access virtual health care and reliable information about Covid-19.

But this isolation and other barriers to basic rights is not something that’s emerged only since the pandemic.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are often excluded from their communities, denied equal access to basic services and face stigma and violence. Students who are deaf are uprooted from families and communities because their school doesn’t offer instruction in sign language.

Erica, a deaf woman living with HIV in Uganda, did not know she was having twins when she was in labor. The nurse did not know sign language and did not instruct her to keep pushing after the delivery of her first child. Erica lost the second twin.

Tilgen, a 15-year-old boy in Kyrgyzstan, had to move away from his family and community to get an education in sign language because sign language was not taught in schools near his home.

For the Deaf community, sign language is not simply a means of communication; it’s crucial for securing basic rights and it’s a part of belonging to a community.

As the world celebrates International Day of Sign Languages, governments should ensure that the human rights of people who are deaf or hard of hearing are respected and support their equal inclusion in society.

Chad: Security Force Abuse Amid National Dialogue

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 23, 2022
Click to expand Image Security forces standing outside the headquarters of The Transformers opposition party in N’Djamena, Chad’s on September 2, 2022. © Private

(Nairobi) – Chad’s security forces used excessive force in recent days against opposition members and supporters protesting the government’s “national dialogue” to lead to new national elections, Human Rights Watch said today. The security force response undermines any hope that the national dialogue will make progress toward elections.

The national dialogue opened on August 20, 2022 in N’Djamena, the capital, and was to be open to all segments of society. The aim is to establish a timeline and rules for presidential elections, promised for October by Mahamat Idriss Déby, who took power in April 2021 after the death of his father, Idriss Déby Itno. The main opposition party, The Transformers (Les Transformateurs), has opposed the dialogue deeming it “not inclusive” and has mobilized its members and supporters to protest against it.

“Chad’s transitional government is once again failing to take any responsibility for its security forces’ abusive actions against peaceful protesters and political opponents, showing a total disregard for fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately end the assault on the opposition, rein in security forces, and ensure that those implicated in rights violations are held accountable.”

Government forces injured scores of protesters in N’Djamena during the first 10 days of September, including with improper use of teargas. Security forces also arrested over 220 people, according to leaders of The Transformers who spoke to Human Rights Watch, several of whom have subsequently reported inhuman detention conditions.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 people between September 1 and 16, including 12 protesters and members of The Transformers, 3 human rights activists, 2 lawyers, and 3 journalists. Human Rights Watch also analyzed 2 videos and 45 photographs of protests shared with its researchers and reviewed reporting by media and national and international rights groups. In a telephone call with Abderaman Koulamallah, Chad’s communication minister on September 22, Human Rights Watch shared its findings.

Click to expand Image Hundreds of members and supporters of Chadian opposition party The Transformers accompanying party leader, Succès Masra, to court in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, on September 9, 2022. © Private

On September 1, security forces arrested over 80 members and supporters of The Transformers, including 7 women, as the members were seeking to inform the public about a September 3 party meeting. “They called me ‘slave’ and pushed me in a tiny cell of less than 6 square meters along with at least 60 other party activists,” a party member said. “The cell was dark and stuffy, ventilation was poor, we were denied any contact with the outside world.”

On September 2, security forces cordoned off The Transformers’ headquarters in N’Djamena’s Abena neighborhood, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, and used teargas to disperse party members and supporters who had gathered there to protest the previous day’s arrests. “We were trapped inside [the party headquarters] and watched as the police brutalized our members and dispersed them with violence,” a party leader said. “They fired teargas canisters against our windows, breaking some. The siege was lifted only three days later.”

According to party members who spoke to Human Rights Watch and the media, security forces also arrested at least 140 people.

Communication Minister Koulamallah claimed that violent protesters outnumbered security forces, and attacked and threw rocks at them. “First, security forces asked protesters to evacuate; protesters refused; and some members of the security forces almost got lynched,” the minister said. “Police launched an ultimatum to protesters, but it didn’t work. The Transformers stirred up peoples’ anger and kept throwing huge rocks at the police, who eventually decided to disperse them with teargas.”

All those arrested on September 1 and 2 were released without charges on September 5, as confirmed to the media by Idriss Dokony Adiker, the public security minister.

On September 3, security forces continued their crackdown in and around Abena neighborhood, using teargas against people who had met at the party headquarters to listen to their leader’s speech. Security forces also broke into several homes of members and supporters of The Transformers.

The security forces also beat four Chadian journalists, including Aristide Djimalde, a 25-year-old reporter working for Alwihda Info, and arrested three of them for covering the crackdown. “The police fired teargas and I sought shelter in a private home with about 10 protesters,” Djimalde said. “The police broke into the house, seized my badge and telephone, deleted all videos and photographs of the protests I had taken, and savagely beat me in my back and arms, before also kicking and slapping the other protesters.”

On September 9, security forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of people accompanying the party leader, Succès Masra, to the courthouse to respond to a summons from the prosecutor of N’Djamena’s Court of First Instance.

“It was like a war,” said a 33-year-old protester. “Police fired a lot of teargas, and we all struggled to breathe and see. They fired from less than 100 meters from us, and I was hit by a teargas canister on the chest. It was painful, it burned me.”

Koulamallah said that the prosecutor had decided unilaterally to summon Masra, but that “Masra decided to go to the court accompanied by hundreds of his supporters, which is an inadmissible action in a democracy […] justice is like a neutral place […] You cannot put pressure on justice, you cannot make the law yourself.” International law on rights to freedom of association and assembly protects peaceful assemblies including any peaceful march to or gathering near a courthouse.

On September 11, diplomatic representatives from the African Union, the European Union, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom in Chad issued a statement expressing concern about the crackdown on The Transformers and calling for respect for the rule of law. The Chadian human rights commission and local and international human rights groups also condemned the security forces’ excessive use of force.

International law, African human rights law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and Chad’s transitional charter enshrine the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and prohibit excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, security forces may use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the threat, and the intentional use of lethal force is permitted only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

“At a time when the country is trying to heal its wounds, security forces’ abuse will only set back Chadian reconciliation, and instead the transitional authorities should ensure respect for the rights to freedom of assembly and expression,” Mudge said. “To this end, they should also ensure that security forces exercise restraint during all protests and gatherings, urgently investigate the attacks on the opposition, and allow all Chadians to fully participate in political life without hinderance.”

Japan to Suspend Myanmar Military Training Program

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 23, 2022
Click to expand Image Officers march during a parade to commemorate Myanmar's 77th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo

On Tuesday, September 20, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced that as of 2023 it would no longer accept new military personnel from the Myanmar military for training in Japan. The ministry cited the junta’s execution of four pro-democracy activists in July as a major factor in its decision.

“We decided it’s not appropriate to continue the military cooperation and exchange in its current form,” said Takeshi Aoki, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry. However, two officers and nine cadets who are currently receiving training at Japan’s National Defense Academy and Japan Self-Defense Forces facilities will remain until their programs finish.

Since 2015, Japan has accepted cadets and officers from Myanmar under article 100-2 of the Self-Defense Forces Act, which permits training and educating foreign nationals in Defense Ministry facilities with the defense minister’s approval. Following Myanmar military’s coup in February 2021, Japan accepted  two officers and two cadets in 2021 and another two officers and two cadets in 2022.

In May, Human Rights Watch and Justice For Myanmar located Myanmar Air Force Lt. Col. Hlwan Moe, who received training at Japan’s Air Command and Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, at Magway Air Base in Myanmar’s central Magway Region. Military units deployed at the air base have been implicated in serious abuses, including possible indiscriminate airstrikes in Magway. In August, Human Rights Watch found that Myanmar Army Brig. Gen. Tin Soe, who received training at Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, was based at Eastern Command headquarters from August 2021 to July 2022. Eastern Command oversees operations in southern Shan and Karenni (Kayah) States and its forces were responsible for a massacre of civilians and other atrocities.

The Defense Ministry’s decision to suspend the training program is critical to ensuring that Japan does not risk becoming complicit in Myanmar military abuses. It is a small and long overdue step, but one that should embolden the Japanese government to join with other democracies that are taking stronger action against the junta. Japan should publicly voice its support for the draft Myanmar resolution that Britain circulated at the United Nations Security Council. That resolution reportedly calls for a global arms embargo on Myanmar that would prohibit all military training and imposes sanctions on the junta.

Indonesia: Hope for Justice in 2014 Papua Massacre

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 23, 2022
Click to expand Image Papuan activists protest the killing of teenagers in Enarotali, at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta, December 10, 2014. © 2014 ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

(Jakarta) – A rarely used Indonesian human rights court is putting a former army officer on trial for alleged crimes during a 2014 massacre in Papua, Human Rights Watch said today. Maj. (ret.) Isak Sattu alone is charged with crimes against humanity for the killing of five Papuans, including four teenagers, on December 8, 2014, in the town of Enarotali, Paniai regency, in Papua province.

The trial, which began on September 21, 2022, is an important opportunity to provide a measure of justice and compensation to the families of the victims. Prosecutor Errly Prima Putera Agoes charged Major Isak Sattu with four articles that contain penalties of between 10 and 25 years in prison. Chief Prosecutor Agoes read the indictment, saying that Major Sattu, as the Army commander in Paniai, committed crimes against humanity and failed in his command responsibility by not stopping his men from taking guns from the arsenal.

“The Indonesian authorities should not squander this important opportunity to finally hold someone accountable for crimes committed during the Paniai massacre,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This should be the start of further prosecutions of serious human rights abuses in Papua, and not a ‘one-off’ effort to close the book on Paniai.”

Indonesia’s human rights court, which was established under Law No. 26 of 2000, has been used very infrequently. The trial will not take place in Papua, but approximately 2,500 kilometers away in Makassar, on Sulawesi island, making it very difficult for witnesses and the families of victims to attend the trial. The authorities should make resources available to witnesses and family members who wish to go, Human Rights Watch said.

On December 8, 2014, Indonesian soldiers fired on about 800 Papuan protesters for approximately seven minutes in the public square in Enarotali, killing four teenagers – Simon Degei, 18; Otianus Gobai, 18; Alfius Youw, 17; and Yulian Yeimo, 17 – and wounding at least 17 to 21 others, including women and children. A fifth protester, Abia Gobay, died elsewhere under unclear circumstances.

It is not clear why Indonesian prosecutors decided to prosecute only one member of the military. Witnesses to the shooting have said that many soldiers were firing their guns when the people were hit.

The protest was sparked by a brawl on the evening of December 7, 2014, when members of Tim Khusus 753 (Special Team 753), a unit attached to the Nabire-based Army Battalion 753, assaulted 12-year-old Yulianus Yeimo. The attack was apparent retaliation after a group of children and teenagers, including Yeimo, shouted at a Tim Khusus 753 vehicle to turn on its headlights as it passed the group, whose members were decorating a Christmas tree and nativity scene in Enarotali’s Ipakiye neighborhood.

The Tim Khusus 753 vehicle soon returned with another truck filled with Indonesian soldiers, who chased the group and caught and beat Yeimo with their rifle butts. Yeimo had to be hospitalized.

Local residents reacted by organizing a peaceful protest in the Enarotali square, in front of the Indonesian military command office. The Indigenous Papuans performed their traditional waita dance, shouting, singing while holding ceremonial bows and arrows which have a purely ritual function, and moving in a circle, mimicking Papua’s famous birds of paradise. This dance is a common practice among the ethnic Mee people in Paniai when they are seeking attention from their leaders.

There has never been a clear explanation as to why the military used unnecessary lethal force against the protesters. International law permits the intentional lethal use of firearms only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. Soldiers did not use other less-lethal crowd control measures.

Two weeks later, when visiting Papua, President Joko Widodo promised that the military and police would conduct a full investigation. However, army chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo denied that soldiers shot the protesters. He stated instead that the gunfire came from a hilly area where no police or soldiers were stationed, implying that Papuan guerrilla fighters were responsible but providing no evidence to support that claim.

Gen. Nurmantyo also failed to explain how someone could shoot protesters on the field from a distance of at least five kilometers from Enarotali square. Nor did he provide a credible response to the numerous witnesses who said they saw the soldiers shoot at the protesters. The army chief’s statement apparently made it difficult for the police to secure cooperation from the military to question Indonesian soldiers about the shootings.

The army chief’s statement reflected the strong resistance among top military leaders to investigating the massacre properly. Indonesia’s justice system differentiates between military and civilian jurisdiction, and the 1997 Military Tribunal Law requires any trials of soldiers to be before a military tribunal. Military resistance has stymied police and prosecutors’ investigation and prosecution of the case. The military justice system lacks transparency, independence, and impartiality, and has often failed to properly investigate and prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by Indonesian soldiers.

Families of four of the people killed have questioned why prosecutors have only brought a single suspect to trial. While the authorities have provided no explanation, a number of observers believe the National Police waited to prosecute a retired army officer, who is now considered a civilian and therefore subject to proceedings in a civilian, not military, court.

“Many Indigenous Papuan families and witnesses have said they will boycott the trial because they don’t believe the proceedings will be independent or fair,” Robertson said. “The court will need to prove itself capable of dispensing justice fairly to counteract the decades of distrust that many Papuans have toward Indonesia’s justice system.”

Indonesia’s Human Rights Court Law establishes the human rights court specifically to try only two crimes: genocide and crimes against humanity. Under the law, the court appoints five judges to preside over the trial, including three ad hoc judges lawyers who must apply to be on a human rights panel, and two career judges from the district court that hosts the trial.

Over the past two decades, Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of human rights violations in Papua. Indigenous Papuans experience arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings as well as sexual and gender-based violence. Foreign journalists and international rights monitors have been restricted from visiting Papua since 1967.

Indigenous Papuans face the underlying problem of discrimination and racism from Indonesian authorities – soldiers, police, government officials, judges – and the resulting rights abuses and culture of impunity that protects those responsible. Many Papuans have protested the abuses that they suffered and, in some cases, called for political change.

The government frequently arrests and prosecutes Papuan protesters for peacefully advocating independence or making other demands, further abusing rights, and deepening the cycle of repression. To break that cycle, Indonesia should open Papua to international media and monitors, allow investigations of current and past abuses, and hold those responsible for abuse accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

“The actions of Indonesia’s military, not just one retired officer, will be on trial, and the government’s response is crucial,” Robertson said. “The hearings should be transparent, open to the public, and widely broadcast. The victims of the Paniai massacre and their families have long been waiting for justice.”

Bold Action Needed on UK Living Standards

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, September 22, 2022
Click to expand Image A shopper puts fruit in her basket in a supermarket in London. The UK inflation rate has hit 10.1% this year, the highest level in more than 40 years.  © 2022 Frank Augstein / AP

The biggest domestic policy challenge for new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is to address spiraling energy and food prices, as the highest inflation rates in four decades undermines people’s basic economic rights. The ‘cost of living crisis’ hits people on the lowest incomes hardest – some are skipping meals to afford their bills.

With the government set to announce its “mini-budget,” here are three areas where human rights principles should guide policy.

Energy costs. The energy price guarantee capping the average household’s bills at £2,500 is a limited, positive step. But it caps bills at double what they were last year. With many already struggling to pay bills, people need targeted support to secure their right to an adequate standard of living. The government should consider offering greater support to poorer households who need it most. And to fulfill its human rights obligation to address climate change, the government should focus on clean energy rather than subsidizing fossil fuels.

Social Security. People have a right to social security. Millions depend on it to secure other rights, including to food and adequate housing. Yet the government has cut benefits in real terms twice in a year, with a £1,040 per year cut in September 2021 and a refusal to increase social security support to match inflation in April 2022. The government should change course and increase social security payments in real terms, factoring in rising food costs, which affect low income households most. Failure to do so will mean people go hungry and cold.

Disability support. People with disabilities face additional costs, sometimes called the “disability price tag.” If you need electric mobility aids, an extra fridge to hold medication, or the home temperature maintained high, you face disproportionately higher energy bills. A one-off £150 "disability cost of living payment" is not adequate. To protect the rights of people with disabilities, the government should establish properly funded disability benefits.

A genuine crisis affecting millions of people requires bold action to protect rights, including shoring up a crumbling social security system funded through taxation. Liz Truss’s plan to introduce tax cuts and lower government revenue while so many face hardship will likely make it more difficult to address these problems. Will the UK government choose to paper over the cracks, or strengthen the basic foundations people need to live in safety and dignity?

Guinea: Landmark Trial for 2009 Massacre

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, September 22, 2022
Click to expand Image A sign showing Conakry’s central prison. Photo taken on March 11, 2021, in Conakry, Guinea.  © 2021 Mamoudou Diallo

(Conakry) – The long-delayed trial of 11 men accused of responsibility for the 2009 Guinean security forces’ massacre of more than 150 peaceful demonstrators and the rape of scores of women in a stadium in Conakry, the capital, is scheduled to open on September 28, 2022. The commencement of the trial is a major step towards justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said today.

This will be the first trial involving human rights violations on this scale in Guinea. It will open 13 years to the day after the crimes were committed, during which time the victims, some victims have died or become ill, their families, lawyers and activists have campaigned to ensure the trial proceeded.

“The victims have been waiting so long for those responsible for Guinea’s 2009 stadium massacre to be held to account,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of the trial brings the victims closer to much needed justice for the horrific crimes committed in the stadium.”

Those at the Conakry stadium were protesting a bid for the presidency by the then-coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara. Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch in 2009 that bodies were strewn across the field, crushed against gates, draped over walls, and piled outside locker rooms where doors had been pulled shut by the terrified few who had gotten there first. Some victims were then knifed or bayoneted to death.

Women who were raped said they were pulled from hiding places in the stadium, including from under chairs, and raped, often by multiple men from the security forces. Witnesses said that four women were shot to death after being sexually assaulted. Security forces then engaged in an organized cover up of the crimes, sealing off the entrances to the stadium and morgues and removing bodies to bury them in mass graves.

11 suspects, including several high ranking military and government figures, are facing trial. Some of them have been in detention for years, far longer than prescribed legal limits, while others have not been detained or arrested, such as Camara, who has been living in exile in Burkina Faso.

Trials in absentia constrain the ability of an accused to exercise their rights to a defense and should be avoided, Human Rights Watch said. Camara has indicated that he intends to participate in the trial and the other accused are barred from leaving the country, according to a spokesperson for the justice ministry.

Victims have joined the proceedings as civil parties in the case.

A timeline of developments and a video appeal for justice by victims and activists was issued in 2019. Representatives of victims’ associations, and local and international human rights organizations, including the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, will be present at the opening.

“For justice to be realized, this trial should be conducted in a manner that is fair and includes the presence of the accused,” said Keppler. “Genuine, credible proceedings are needed, in which victims can participate fully in the proceedings without fears for their security.”

Guinean authorities committed to ensure justice for the crimes and opened an investigation in early 2010, but many obstacles impeded progress which was slow and inconsistent. After the investigation concluded in 2017, groups increasingly denounced delays to the trial’s start and raised concerns about a lack of will to hold the trial.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Guinea in October 2009 and has monitored progress in this case since the beginning. As a court of last resort, the ICC will only step in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Over the years, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor sought to constructively engage with the authorities to press them to deliver on their early commitment to bring justice in this case, part of what is known as “positive complementarity.”

This is a role the Office of the Prosecutor should continue to seek to play across the ICC’s situation countries, including by carrying forward lessons from the Guinea situation into its interactions with other national authorities, Human Rights Watch said.

The Office of the Prosecutor noted in December 2020 that the Guinean authorities had not yet taken any concrete steps to organize the trial, despite repeated commitments to proceed. Representatives of the office most recently visited Conakry in November 2021 and September 2022. A UN expert from the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in Guinea also has worked with the judicial authorities for a decade to support justice efforts.

Respect for human rights in Guinea is facing significant challenges since the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (Comité national du rassemblement et du développement, CNRD) took power in a coup in September 2021. The coup unseated President Alpha Condé. Under Condé human rights abuses had escalated, including attacks on the opposition.

The CNRD leader, Mamady Doumbouya, has signaled support for justice efforts and attended the 2021 commemoration of the massacre. In July, he indicated that the trial should open before the 2022 anniversary of the crimes.

This trial should be part of broader measures to ensure respect for human rights, including removing a ban on public protests and dissolution of the opposition, which are in effect, Human Rights Watch said. A return to democratic rule, and trials for other serious crimes, such as killings and other abuses committed in response to nationwide protests in 2007 is needed.

“The trial is an unprecedented step for justice for victims in Guinea, which should be accompanied by reforms to enable respect for rights and more prosecutions of abuses,” said Keppler. “The ICC Prosecutor’s office has played a vital role in spurring forward this landmark trial through its ongoing monitoring and frequent visits to Conakry, which it should continue.”

England To End LBQ+ Discrimination in Access to Fertility Services

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, September 22, 2022
Click to expand Image Amandine Giraud and her wife Laurene Corral with their children conceived with fertility assistance in Paris, France, where lesbian couples and single women have access to medically assisted reproductive services, September 2018.     © Christian Hartmann / Reuters

The British government has committed to a 10-year strategy to end discrimination against “female same-sex couples” seeking fertility services.

The first ever Women’s Health Strategy For England, published by the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, includes language supporting reproductive rights for lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ+) women. It commits the government’s health department to improving transparency and removing discriminatory policies to ensure “female same-sex couples are able to access [National Health Service] NHS-funded fertility services in a more equitable way.”

In October, 2021, campaigners Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans launched a legal case against their local NHS board, stating that its fertility policy discriminated against lesbians. In their postcode, same-sex female couples seeking one cycle of NHS-funded in vitro fertilization (IVF) are required to prove infertility by self-funding 12 rounds of artificial insemination, including 6 in a clinical setting, costing approximately £26,000. For heterosexual couples, the requirement to prove infertility is attestation of two years of unprotected sex.

The new strategy removes the requirement for self-funding, and states that female same-sex couples can expect NHS coverage to start with 6 cycles of artificial insemination.

Still, there is little clarity as to when the strategy will take effect. “Some queer couples told us this week they have already been put on fertility waiting lists for 2023, others were told they still don’t qualify,” Bacon-Evans told Human Rights Watch.

Also, the strategy is silent on “single women who want to start a family,” an issue highlighted by experts who submitted to the strategy process, which could potentially discriminate against both heterosexual and queer single women. As the strategy commits the department to administer care for women regardless of non-clinical factors, such as relationship status, single women should be covered.

The strategy also does not define “same-sex” or “couple.” It remains unclear if partners must be married or in a civil partnership, and if treatment will be available to LBQ+ couples in which one or both partners are transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming.

Authorities should extend non-discriminatory access to fertility treatment to single women and all LBQ+ couples, regardless of gender identity or expression. They should also be protected from non-clinical barriers to fertility services. One immediate opportunity comes as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence updates its fertility assessment and treatment guidelines.

Athletes, Fans Demand Remedy for Migrant Worker Abuses in Qatar

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Click to expand Image Ex-Australian men’s national football team captain Craig Foster announced he would donate his salary as a broadcaster during the World Cup to families of deceased workers and LGBTI and women's rights groups. © 2022 Craig Foster

With only weeks remaining until the opening kickoff of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, support is rapidly spreading across world football to compensate migrant workers abused during preparations for the tournament.

At a Human Rights Watch press briefing this week, former Australian men’s national football team captain Craig Foster, a staunch supporter of the #PayUpFIFA campaign, said he will donate his salary as a broadcaster at the games to families of deceased workers and LGBTI and women's rights groups. That should encourage the global football industry, in particular corporate partners and football associations, to go beyond cautiously worded statements and boldly support the remedy call and consider financially contributing themselves.

Human Rights Watch, other rights groups, and unions are calling on FIFA and Qatari authorities to remedy serious migrant worker abuses, including through financial compensation, before the start of the tournament.

“This World Cup will set a standard for future events,” Foster said, calling on others from the football industry to follow suit. “Either we pretend that thousands of people haven’t died so that we can play, or we make a stand for human rights compliance in, and through sport. Silence is not an option.”

Beyond Foster, the list of prominent footballers backing the call has expanded to include former star players Tim Sparv, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer; Netherlands Football Manager Louis Van Gaal, Norway and Germany football association presidents Lise Klaveness and Bernd Neuendorf, and the Netherlands and UK football associations.

A recent YouGov survey commissioned by Amnesty International suggested 73 percent polled across 15 countries support FIFA using World Cup revenue to compensate workers harmed.

Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, said taking the competition to countries like Qatar has forced fan groups to build up expertise on human rights, saying one of their key priorities is to amplify voices of migrant workers.

“Just like players, the World Cup is important to us,” Evain said. “We [fans] did not choose it, we did not support it and it leaves some of us fans with no other option than choosing between their passion and their principles.”

As Foster says, those who love football must find their voices now to support those who made the World Cup possible: “Compensation must come before celebration.”

Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Border Clashes Prove Deadly for Civilians

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Click to expand Image Civilians displaced by border clashes at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border near Batken, southwestern Kyrgyzstan, September 17, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Danil Usmanov

Reports indicate that at least 37 civilians, including four children, are among over 100 people killed in the past week as a result of border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The clashes, which broke out on September 14, reportedly began when Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards exchanged fire along a disputed segment of the border. With hundreds more wounded, fighting has affected civilian populations in at least a dozen villages located on both sides of the largely undelineated border between the two countries.

Many homes in Kyrgyzstan’s Ak-Sai village are alleged to have been deliberately burned and pillaged, according to Kyrgyz authorities’ claims reported in the media, and more than 300 civilian structures, including markets and schools, were set on fire or damaged during the hostilities. Nearly 137,000 people had to be evacuated, Kyrgyzstan authorities say, and are now reportedly with families in the Batken and Osh regions in southwestern Kyrgyzstan or in temporary shelters established in 53 schools in Batken town.

While Tajik authorities also say that many civilian homes have been burned in Tajikistan and that scores of seriously wounded people are being treated in Sughd district hospitals near the border, there have been no reports of government-led evacuation efforts there.

Both countries have accused the other of using weapons systems, such as Grad rockets and Bayraktar armed drones, to attack populated areas and civilian infrastructure, resulting in deaths of civilians. Similar hostilities in late April 2021 killed over 50 people on both sides, mostly civilians, injured hundreds, and caused about 58,000 people to flee their homes.

The alleged deliberate burning of houses and markets, damage to schools and other civilian infrastructure, as well as the reported use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas could constitute violations of the laws of war. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan should investigate their own responsibility for civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, hold those responsible to account, and provide appropriate remedies to civilians.

International partners of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, including the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), should engage promptly with both governments to ensure that civilians, including those internally displaced, have adequate protection.

Canada: Nova Scotia To End Immigration Detention in Jails

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, September 21, 2022

(Halifax) – Nova Scotia’s confirmation that it will terminate its immigration detention contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is another win for migrant and refugee rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Canada said today. The move follows a landmark decision by British Columbia on July 21 to terminate its own contract with the border agency.  

Click to expand Image The photo says "WIN! Nova Scotia become Second Canadian Province to End Immigration Detention in its Jails." At the bottom left of the image is an icon of a maple leaf next to "Welcome to Canada." The photo's background features a maple leaf. © Human Rights Watch 2022

“Nova Scotia’s decision is a momentous human rights victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life,” said Samer Muscati, associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “With two provinces now canceling their immigration detention contracts within weeks, the federal government should show leadership by canceling the remaining agreements, which are at the heart of so many rights violations.”

Over the past five years, CBSA has incarcerated thousands of people on immigration grounds in dozens of provincial jails across the country. In Nova Scotia, they are held in provincial jails by default because the province has no dedicated immigration holding center. According to information accessed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as of April 2021 the federal government pays Nova Scotia one of the highest rates in the country, CAD $392.30 per day, for each immigration detainee.

“As a result of Nova Scotia’s decision, immigration detainees will soon be spared the corrosive, human rights-impairing conditions of the province's jails, where solitary confinement, mass lockdowns and other forms of routine institutional violence have only intensified since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sheila Wildeman, Co-Chair of East Coast Prison Justice Society and associate professor of law at Dalhousie University. “We call on the federal government to use the resources devoted to maintaining this brutal practice to instead invest in sustainable immigration settlement supports in the community.”

In a June 2021 report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented that people in Canadian immigration detention are regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world. Canada is among only a few countries in the global north with no legal limit on the duration of immigration detention, meaning people can be detained for months or years with no end in sight.

The border agency has full discretion over where people in immigration detention are held, with no legal standard guiding the agency’s decision to hold a person in a provincial jail rather than an immigration holding center. In the year following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the agency relied more heavily on provincial jails, holding 40 percent of immigration detainees in those facilities, at least double the percentage in each of the three previous years.

People with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process. For example, CBSA policy indicates that  immigration detainees with psychosocial disabilities may be incarcerated in provincial jails rather than dedicated federal immigration holding centers in order to access “specialized care.” People from communities of color, and Black people in particular, appear to be incarcerated for longer periods in immigration detention and often in provincial jails instead of immigration holding centers.

Across the Atlantic provinces and throughout the country, migrants and refugee claimants too frequently face abusive, open-ended immigration detention – especially traumatic for those fleeing war or persecution in search of a safe haven,” said Julie Chamagne, Executive Director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic. “Nova Scotia’s decision is an important step forward for human rights. We call on the federal government to enact robust legislative and regulatory changes to stop rights violations in this system across the country.”

Nova Scotia’s decision is building powerful momentum to end immigration detention in provincial jails, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. Since the start of the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in Nova Scotia six months ago, approximately 4,600 people have called on the province to take this step.

“We commend Nova Scotia for its decision to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in the province’s jails solely on immigration grounds,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking). “There is now clear pressure to end this harmful practice across the country. We urge other provinces and the federal government to follow suit.”

As World Cup Looms, the Families Football Left Behind

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Click to expand Image Ram Pukar Sahani shares his father, Ganga Sahani’s pictures. © 2022 Private

Ram Pukar Sahani’s father died in Qatar earlier this year, but his memory remains very much alive. Ram and his family are a reminder of the many left behind after their loved ones died while working in Qatar.

Human Rights Watch met the family in southern Nepal this month when interviewing families of migrant workers who died in Qatar, many of whom made the FIFA 2022 World Cup, which starts in November, possible.

Ram said he first learned of his father’s death from a friend. In disbelief, he called his father in Qatar. His father’s friend answered, confirming the devastating news. “I dropped the phone, and I passed out,” he recalled tearfully.

According to Ram, his father died at a worksite in his uniform, but was ineligible for compensation because his death certificate read, “acute heart failure due to natural death.” According to Qatar’s labor law, deaths attributed to “natural causes” without being adequately investigated are not considered work-related and as such are not compensated. Like families of many other young, healthy workers who died in Qatar of “natural causes,” Ram couldn’t make sense of it. “How will someone so healthy and strong die? I did not believe the news.”

Ram Pukar Sahani shows his father Ganga Sahani’s photo from his father’s phone that he managed to recover from Qatar after his death.  © 2022 PrivateGulo Kumari Sahani, wife of Ganga Sahani, a Nepali migrant worker who died in Qatar.  © 2022 PrivateRam Pukar Sahani shares his father, Ganga Sahani’s pictures. © 2022 PrivateGulo Kumari Sahani cooking in her kitchen. Her husband Ganga Sahani was a Nepali migrant worker who died in Qatar.   © 2022 Private

Many migrants have been cheated of their wages and end-of-service benefits while building the World Cup infrastructure, and families of workers who died have often not received compensation from the employer nor the Qatari government.

Compensation schemes for migrant workers and their families do exist, including from workers’ home countries and some from the Qatari government, but significant gaps mean not all families receive compensation. For those who do, it’s often not enough.

FIFA, the Qatari government, and his employer may have forgotten Ram’s father – and thousands of others like him – but his memory lives on with Ram. “This is my father. Look at him,” Ram says, as he scrolls through the photo gallery in his father’s phone; important memorabilia he managed to recover from Qatar. “When I face some difficulty, I miss my father very much and scroll through his phone for comfort.”

Families of the deceased should not have to wait any longer. Ahead of the World Cup kickoff, FIFA and the Qatari government should commit to providing compensation for all the families left behind.

Turkey: Plastic Recycling Harms Health, Environment

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, September 21, 2022

(Istanbul) – Plastic recycling in Turkey is harming the health of many people and degrading the environment for everyone, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 88-page report, “‘It’s as If They’re Poisoning Us’: The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling in Turkey,” documents the consequences of the Turkish government’s ineffective response to the health and environmental impacts of plastic recycling on the right to health. Air pollutants and toxins emitted from recycling affect workers, including children, and people living near recycling facilities.

The government fails to enforce laws and regulations that require strict licensing and regular, thorough inspections of recycling facilities and occupational health, greatly exacerbating facilities’ impacts on health and the environment. Plastic waste imported from the European Union is significantly contributing to these abuses.

“Turkey has regulations to protect people and the environment, but a lack of enforcement is increasing people’s risk of serious, life-long health conditions,” said Krista Shennum, Gruber Fellow in the Environment and Human Rights division at Human Rights Watch. “The government of Turkey needs to do more to meet its obligations to protect people from the effects of toxic plastic recycling.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 64 people, including 26 who currently work or previously worked in plastic recycling facilities in Istanbul and Adana and 21 who live near plastic recycling facilities. Five of the workers were children at the time of the interview, and four adults interviewed began working in a plastic recycling facility as children.

Workers and residents of neighboring communities described respiratory problems, severe headaches, skin ailments, lack of protective equipment, and little to no access to medical treatment for occupational illnesses. Many of the facilities Human Rights Watch visited were located dangerously close to homes, in contravention of Turkish laws and environmental regulations.

To be recycled, plastic waste is shredded, washed, melted at high temperatures, and then turned into pellets. This process emits air pollutants and toxins that, without adequate protections, can contribute to short-term health problems, including asthma, difficulty breathing, and eye irritation. Scientists have also linked exposure to these toxins to an increased risk of cancer, neurological impacts, and reproductive system harm. In addition, plastics are made from fossil fuels and toxic additives and also release significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to the climate crisis.

Since the Chinese government banned plastic waste imports in 2018, many countries in the Global North have scrambled to find new destinations for their plastic waste. Because of its geographic proximity, strong trade relations with the European Union, and status as an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member, Turkey has become the primary destination for the EU’s plastic waste, receiving nearly half of the EU’s plastic waste exports in 2020 and 2021.

Many recycling facility workers are from the most vulnerable populations in Turkey and include children, refugees, and undocumented migrants. Some workers, including undocumented migrants, said they do not have access to medical services if they get sick or are injured in the workplace. Fear over losing their jobs made workers wary about raising concerns with their employers over harmful working conditions, including working without access to personal protective equipment.

Human Rights Watch found that children work in plastic recycling facilities in Turkey even though Turkish law prohibits them from working in such hazardous conditions and the exposure to pollution and toxins is especially damaging to their health.

“There’s a huge cauldron where they’re cooking the material, they keep adding water which comes back up as steam,” said a 20-year-old waste picker in Adana who had worked at a plastic recycling center as a child. “When I inhaled that, it would feel like my lungs were squeezed and under pressure … I stopped working there two months ago, but I still have a problem with breathing.”

Residents of neighboring communities said intense odors and pollution from plastic recycling prevent them from sleeping, opening their windows, and spending time outside.

“My 27-year-old sister died of colon cancer, this was 10 years ago,” said a 35-year-old man whose family lived for decades near recycling facilities. He believes that living near recycling facilities is a factor in the deaths of four relatives. “My brother died at 34 years of lung cancer four years ago. I believe it is the effect of the recycling plants.”

Human Rights Watch found that workers and nearby residents are not provided with basic information about levels of toxins in their environment, risks from those toxic exposures, or ways to minimize those risks despite the law requiring Turkish authorities and employers to monitor conditions and share this information.

While it is mandatory for plastic recycling facilities to acquire licenses and permits from the relevant authorities, it is unclear exactly how many meet this requirement and how many operate without licenses. Licenses require adherence to environmental and occupational health standards that would limit health risks. For licensed facilities, environmental, occupational health, and labor inspections often fail to adequately examine environmental and health conditions.

Human Rights Watch wrote to key ministries and municipalities in Turkey to share initial research findings and seek information on plastic recycling facilities, air quality data, inspection reports, rates of illness related to toxic exposure, plastic waste import data, and child labor. In some cases, Human Rights Watch did not receive a response. In other instances, the responses received were incomplete and did not provide answers to the questions posted. For example, the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change said that it had undertaken thousands of inspections of waste disposal and recycling facilities since 2018 and fined facilities and closed unlicensed ones. Yet, the ministry did not provide specific data for plastic recycling facilities, and the findings of Human Rights Watch's report show the need for more resolute steps to address pervasive violations of the right to health.

The Turkish Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change should conduct independent and thorough inspections of recycling facilities to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and to make information about the risks of air pollution and toxin exposure readily available and accessible, Human Rights Watch said. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security should enforce Turkey’s ban on child labor in hazardous workplaces, including plastic recycling facilities.

Countries that export plastic waste, including those in the EU, should take steps to more effectively manage their plastic waste domestically, rather than shipping their waste to countries with weak or inadequate government enforcement of environmental and labor regulations. The Turkish government should reinstate the ban on imported plastic waste for recycling, which it introduced in July 2021 but quickly lifted.

“Europe’s wealthiest countries are sending their trash to Turkey, consigning some of Turkey’s most vulnerable communities, including children, refugees and migrants, to serious environmental and health risks,” Shennum said. “The EU and individual plastic-exporting countries should take responsibility for their own plastic waste, end the export of plastic to Turkey, and reduce the amount of plastic they produce and consume.”

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