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US Supreme Court Rejects Alabama’s Discriminatory Voting Map

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 9, 2023
Click to expand Image Lead counsel for the plaintiffs Deuel Ross (2nd left) speaks to members of the press as President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Janai Nelson (right), plaintiff Evan Milligan (2nd right), U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) (3rd right), and Khadidah Stone, plaintiff (4th right) listen after the oral argument of the Allen v. Milligan case at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, US, October 4, 2022. © 2022 Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a victory for the right to vote, on June 8, the United States Supreme Court held in Allen v. Milligan that Alabama’s Congressional voting district map violates the Voting Rights Act of 1964. In a 5-4 opinion, the Court upheld the findings of a lower court which had also rejected the map as an abusive attempt to dilute Black political power through racially discriminatory gerrymandering.

The map, adopted by the Alabama legislature and signed into law in November 2021, contained six majority-white districts and one majority-Black district. Black residents make up more than one-quarter of the state’s population.

The Supreme Court opinion acknowledges that Alabama’s “Black Belt” is a “community of interest” whose political representation must be protected. The rural region is called the Black Belt both because of its black fertile soil and its majority Black population. Many residents are descendants of enslaved African people who toiled the land during chattel slavery, tenant farming, and sharecropping. Despite producing great wealth for the region, Black Belt residents continue to experience the country’s most extreme poverty, poor health outcomes, including high cervical cancer mortality rates, and premature deaths. The gerrymandered dilution of their vote has effectively prevented them from political representation of their needs in Congress.

Dozens of pro-democracy organizations, including Alabama Forward, Alabama Values, the Legal Defense Fund, and the ACLU of Alabama launched the Power on the Line campaign in 2022 to highlight the role redistricting plays in protecting civil and human rights. The Power on the Line campaign mobilized hundreds of citizens across the South to advocate for fair representation.

Though far more needs to be done, the Court’s ruling is aligned with a recommendation made in September 2022 by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to the US to “end unreasonable restrictions on the right to vote … affecting racial and ethnic minorities.” Another key step in securing the right to vote lies with Congress, which should pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, which would increase federal oversight of state elections. 

In the coming months, voting rights advocates and human rights defenders will push the Alabama legislature to draw a new map that fairly represents Black voters. Ordered by the Court, this action is required for Alabama and the US to move closer to a healthy democracy, one where all communities are heard.

New EU Migration Deal Will Increase Suffering at Borders

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 9, 2023
Click to expand Image The Closed Controlled Access Center for asylum seekers on Samos, Greece, October 21, 2021. The hotspot was created in 2021 with EU funds.  © 2021 Nik Oiko/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

A June 8 agreement among European Union countries on asylum procedures and migration management is a recipe for more abuse at EU borders. Interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg endorsed policies that will entrench rights violations, including expedited procedures without sufficient safeguards, increased use of detention, and unsafe returns. The detailed agreement has not yet been published.

The deal creates an expedited “border procedure” for anyone applying for asylum following an irregular entry or disembarkation after a rescue at sea. The procedure would be mandatory for asylum seekers coming from countries whose nationals have a less than 20 percent rate of being granted some form of protection and anyone authorities say withheld or used false information. In practice, many if not most people will be channeled into these sub-standard accelerated procedures with fewer safeguards, such as legal aid, than the normal procedure.

People are also likely to be locked up during the procedure, which could take up to six months, with few exemptions for people with vulnerabilities, families, or children. Imposing this procedure in conjunction with detention or detention-like conditions is directly linked to the twin interests of many EU countries in preventing people traveling further into Europe from countries of first entry and in deporting people as swiftly as possible.

The agreement would allow each country to determine what constitutes a “safe third country” where people can be returned, based on a vague concept of “connection” to that country. This could lead to people being sent to countries they have merely transited or where they have a family member but have themselves never been, and where their basic rights cannot be guaranteed.

The agreement makes minimal changes to the dysfunctional system for sharing responsibility among EU countries for migrants and asylum seekers and does not address its fundamental flaws. EU countries have rejected a mandatory relocation scheme, instead aiming to allow countries who won’t take asylum seekers to pay into a common fund that would be used to finance unspecified projects in non-EU countries, presumably focused on preventing migration.

When the European Commission presented its proposal for a Migration Pact in September 2020, more than 70 organizations warned the proposal risked “exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment, and return.” EU governments have taken over two years to make the bad proposal from the Commission even worse. It’s now up to the European Parliament to limit the harms these terrible proposals would cause.

Germany’s Rush for 'Critical' Minerals is a Human Rights Challenge

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 9, 2023
Click to expand Image  Artisanal miners carry sacks of ore at a mine near Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 12, 2022. © 2022 Junior Kannah/AFP via Getty Images

By 2030, Germany aims to get 80 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources, and have 15 million all-electric cars registered.

But the expansion of wind energy there has been slow, and the car industry has come late to the electric vehicles market. Also, this energy transition requires significant amounts of minerals, such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, and copper: resources that are mostly located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Given the human rights record of the mining sector – child labor, expropriation of land, pollution, violence by armed groups – the new rush on these so-called critical minerals is worrisome. It is therefore encouraging that the German government is addressing this conundrum. At a conference on “responsible mining for a just transition” last week, Development Minister Svenja Schulze recognised the risks, making clear that mine workers should be “able to do this work under decent conditions — that they are not exploited”.

But making this vision a reality is easier said than done. The majority of “critical” minerals are processed in China, where supply chains are rarely checked for risks of forced labor or other abuses. Germany and other EU governments are trying to reduce their dependency on China and to secure a diversified supply of minerals, proposed in the EU Critical Raw Materials Act. The Act relies heavily on certification initiatives and audits to decide whether new mines and other projects merit government support. But relying on audits or certifications is problematic, as they often lack rigor and transparency. The law therefore risks supporting harmful mining projects.

Mining for transition minerals is already characterized by violations, such as child labor in cobalt mining and violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in lithium mining. During the conference, Zambian activist Nsama Chikwanka gave a painful account of how mining for manganese and copper has caused pollution, illness, and loss of livelihoods in Zambia.

Germany’s new supply chains law entered into force in January 2023. The law obliges companies to identify, prevent, and address risks in their supply chains, and to report their steps publicly. Now, the office tasked with enforcement needs to closely watch companies in the supply chain for energy transition minerals, and impose fines on those that don’t comply. Responsible business conduct is just as critical as the minerals everyone wants.

Honduras: Strong Action Needed on Corruption

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 9, 2023
Click to expand Image A woman and her son at their home in the community of El Redondo, municipality of Trojes, Honduras, April 28, 2021. © 2021 Gustavo Amador/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

(Tegucigalpa) – Honduras should take urgent steps to fight corruption, a structural problem that undermines human rights throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper sent today to President Xiomara Castro and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. The ongoing negotiations to create a UN-backed commission – the Comisión Internacional contra la Corrupción e Impunidad en Honduras (CICIH, or International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras) – provide a unique opportunity to learn from past experience and make lasting progress.

June 9, 2023 Honduras Briefing: Strong Action Needed on Corruption

President Castro was elected on a human rights platform with a strong focus on fighting systemic corruption. Her administration signed a memorandum in December 2022 with the United Nations secretary-general to create the commission. In April 2023, President Castro agreed to the terms for a UN visit to lay the foundations of the commission.

“President Castro’s pledge to address corruption, in a region where those in power are increasingly being implicated in it, was a positive step,” said Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But it’s been over a year since she took office, and she needs to show the people of Honduras that she stands by her pledge.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported in 2019 that cases of corruption had “proliferated” to “an extremely concerning degree” in Latin America and the Caribbean. Honduras ranked 157th out of 180 nations in the 2022 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International, positioning it below every other country in Latin America and the Caribbean, except for Nicaragua (167), Haiti (171), and Venezuela (177).

Systemic corruption can deprive the government of money to invest in health, education, clean water, housing, and other rights. It dangerously undermines essential government functions, distorts public accountability, and often leads to attacks on judicial independence and freedom of expression to prevent or undermine investigations by the justice system and news media.

In Honduras, Human Rights Watch reviewed the judicial files of 14 corruption investigations, and found strong links to human rights abuses in 12 of them. The corruption documented by prosecutors undermined the rights to food, health, and education, as well as Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent regarding measures that may affect them, among other adverse consequences. Human Rights Watch also documented another case in which officials were implicated in corruption in the purchase of mobile hospitals. In the briefing paper, Human Rights Watch detailed four examples of corruption’s impact on human rights.

Eleven of these 15 cases were uncovered by the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), an international body created in 2016, in response to pressure from the Honduran public, by then-President Juan Orlando Hernández with the support of the Organization of American States. But resistance to its work from both the executive and legislative branches soon weakened the fight against corruption.

After its prosecutors exposed high-level corruption scandals, President Hernández declined to extend its mandate in 2020. Cut short, it was unable to push for much-needed legal reforms or to strengthen prosecutorial and judicial independence, which would have allowed the cases to move forward. After its dissolution, Honduran prosecutors who had worked for the international mission and continued under the orbit of the Attorney General’s Office lacked the resources and support it had provided.

Honduras’ legal framework includes laws that hinder the fight against corruption and reduce transparency and accountability, making it more difficult to prosecute corruption, as shown in some high-profile cases Human Rights Watch details in the briefing paper. A Congressional decree passed in 2021, for example, narrowed the criminal definition of money laundering, leading to the dismissal of many cases.

In Honduras, political parties have often interfered with the judicial system to further their own interests. Appointments of Supreme Court justices and the attorney general were negotiated behind closed doors, not based on merit but on political affinity.

An important step forward was a 2022 congressional reform of the selection process for Supreme Court justices that enabled transparency in the February 2023 selection of 15 new justices. The future of judicial independence in Honduras also depends on the quality of the process for selecting the next attorney general, after Attorney General Óscar Chinchilla’s five-year term expires on August 31. The process should be transparent and based on merit and clear criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

Anti-corruption experts Human Rights Watch interviewed emphasized the importance of designing the international commission to serve as a vehicle to strengthen local institutions. The commission’s work will be critical, but it should also help to build a strong, resilient Honduran anti-corruption and justice system capable of deterring, prosecuting, and punishing corruption in the long term.

The Castro administration should empower it to propose legislative reforms to strengthen the rule of law and the fight against corruption, and the president should commit to working with Congress to carry out these reforms, Human Rights Watch said. For the commission to succeed, it needs to be autonomous and independent, with a broad mandate to investigate and prosecute individual corruption cases and the authority to protect its Honduran and international staff from retaliation.

“If Honduras sets it up for success, the international commission could provide a regional model for fighting a scourge that undermines people’s rights and their ability to lead their daily lives in dignity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,” Goebertus said. “President Castro and Secretary-General Guterres, with the support of the international community, have an opportunity to show that democracy and the rule of law can deliver.”

Kyrgyzstan: Draft Law Threatens Civic Space

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 9, 2023

(Bishkek, June 9, 2023) – The Kyrgyz parliament should reject a highly repressive draft law that would interfere with the activities of nongovernmental organizations, Human Rights Watch said today. The law would require organizations to register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign representatives” if they receive funding from abroad and engage in political activity.

On May 19, 2023, parliament members registered Making Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic for consideration, known as the draft law on “Foreign Representatives.” Failure to register under the law could result in suspension of the organization’s activities, including its banking operations, for up to 6 months or until it is registered. This requirement is clearly intended to discredit and stigmatize groups that receive foreign funding and could have a chilling effect on the country’s civil society at a time when it is already under attack.

“The draft law is incompatible with international human rights obligations, restricting freedom of association and expression, as well as introducing in some cases criminal liability for nongovernmental organizations and their staff members,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The draft law poses a serious threat to Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant civil society and should be withdrawn.”

The draft law’s vague and overbroad definition of political activity as “actions aimed at changing state policy and shaping public opinion for these purposes” poses a particular risk for civic activism in Kyrgyzstan, where increasingly freedom of association and freedom of expression have come under attack in the last year. These measures threaten to silence the voices of organizations that play a crucial role in promoting human rights, democracy, and social justice in Kyrgyzstan.

The draft law was initially submitted for public consideration in November 2022 by Nadira Narmatova, a government-aligned member of parliament, but later withdrawn. In May, 32 other members joined Narmatova as co-signers and it was resubmitted. They evidently disregarded concerns raised by experts and lawyers during the public consideration period.

The draft law also introduces the designation of foreign nongovernmental organizations – a concept new to Kyrgyzstan, defined as any nongovernmental organization established abroad that operates in Kyrgyzstan through its branches and representative offices. Such organizations must now also be registered.

The draft law expands reporting requirements for all nongovernmental organizations, both foreign branches and “foreign representatives.” They would annually be required to provide information about staff including their names and position, remuneration of each staff member, financial assets, and any property the group owns.

The draft law would grant the government significantly enhanced oversight powers, with representatives of the Justice Ministry allowed to participate in the internal activities of nongovernmental organizations to determine if they are consistent with the organization’s founding purpose. The ministry would also have the right to bar organizations operating in the country from receiving funds from foreign sources.

The draft law also introduces criminal liability – from a fine to up to 10 years in prison for establishing or participating in a nongovernmental organization that is found to be “inciting citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other unlawful deeds.”

National and international organizations in Kyrgyzstan have warned that the draft law is incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations. In its Urgent Interim Opinion on the draft law published in December, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe underscored the risk of “stigmatizing certain organizations carrying out legitimate work, including advocacy and participation in public affairs, and potentially of triggering mistrust, fear and hostility against such organizations.” It described the draft law as needing “substantial and fundamental changes amounting to a complete redrafting” and urged the initiators not to pursue it further.

Legal experts have also noted the draft law is similar to the previous “foreign agents” bill that was introduced in 2013 and registered for parliamentary consideration in 2015. That bill passed the first reading with an overwhelming majority vote but was ultimately withdrawn because of pressure from civil society and the country’s international partners. Both the 2013 and current drafts were found to be similar to the Russian “foreign agents” law of 2012.

The draft law contradicts Kyrgyzstan’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Kyrgyzstan is a party. While certain limitations of the rights to freedom of expression and association are permissible under international law, they must be provided by a clear and accessible law and be necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim. The current draft law does not meet this test and would impose undue restrictions on these rights, Human Rights watch said.

The right to seek, receive, and utilize resources from national, international, and foreign sources is an inherent part of the right to freedom of association. This has been established by numerous international and regional human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the ICCPR by its States parties.

Kyrgyzstan’s international partners, in particular the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations, should publicly express their concern about the negative consequences of the legislation and urge President Sadyr Japarov not to sign it into law should it pass the parliament.

The draft law is also inconsistent with Kyrgyzstan’s commitments to uphold its international human rights obligations at home and abroad, made in February 2023 when it became a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“If passed, this draft law will have a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s civil society organizations, limiting their ability to advocate for human rights, provide social services, and contribute to the development of a robust and inclusive society,” Sultanalieva said. “Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation will suffer as a result.”

South Sudan Ratifies Crucial African Women’s Rights Treaty

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 8, 2023
Click to expand Image Women in the village of Rubkuai, South Sudan, February 16, 2017.  © 2017 Siegfried Modola/Reuters

This week, South Sudan finalized ratification of the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), ending years of delay. While this ratification signals a commitment to gender equality, South Sudanese authorities need to adopt effective policies and strategies to ensure the protocol makes a difference in people’s lives.

Implementing the Maputo Protocol need not be as fraught as its ratification process, which began when the government signed it in January 2013. Parliament ratified the agreement in October 2017 but had reservations on several provisions, including those discouraging polygamy and on sexual and reproductive health, particularly the right to decide whether to have children, the number and spacing, and the rights to contraceptives and safe abortion care. In March 2023, following years of advocacy by national and regional women’s rights groups, President Salva Kiir finally signed the instruments of ratification.

As Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged, the government should begin fulfilling the terms of the protocol by setting the minimum age of marriage at 18. While South Sudan’s 2011 Transitional Constitution and the 2008 Child Act prohibit child marriage, they do not set an age limit and the practice has continued unabated.

The government should also finalize the proposed Anti Gender-Based Violence Bill, pending before the minister of justice since 2020. The bill outlaws harmful customary and traditional practices and proposes effective procedures for enforcement and monitoring. The authorities have disregarded the problem of sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan, with police routinely treating domestic and intimate-partner violence as a private matter, with complaints rarely resulting in intervention or prosecution.

Marital rape is also not criminalized under statutory or customary laws. The government should enact a family law to regulate marriage, divorce, custody, and property inheritance outside the customary legal system.

Conflict-related sexual violence has been persistent since 2013, without meaningful accountability. The government should take credible steps to end impunity including by working with the African Union to finally establish a long-delayed Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

Civil society groups should play a prominent role in the Maputo Protocol’s implementation, including by seeking the withdrawal of reservations through advocacy, shadow reports or strategic litigation.

Such steps could go a long way in advancing education, economic empowerment, health, and freedom from violence for women and girls in South Sudan.

Outspoken Philippine Ex-Senator Denied Bail

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 8, 2023
Click to expand Image Supporters of former senator Leila de Lima outside the Hall of Justice in Muntinlupa City, Philippines, May 12, 2023. © 2023 Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

On Wednesday, a Philippine court denied bail for former Senator Leila de Lima, who has unjustly been in police detention for more than six years. De Lima has already been acquitted in two of the three separate drug cases brought against her. The European Union and other governments should press President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to drop the remaining charges and release de Lima.

The denial of bail for de Lima request illustrates the dysfunction and politicized nature of the Philippines justice system. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines has ratified, states that it “shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” At least two witnesses against de Lima were convicted drug dealers, one of whom has recanted, while another key witness, former prisons official Rafael Ragos, retracted his testimony. This retraction led to de Lima being acquitted of another charge, but the court, which ignored both the retraction and acquittal before denying her bail, ignored this.

The case reflects larger unaddressed human rights concerns in the Philippines. Despite Marcos’s promises of reform, more than 300 drug-related killings have occurred since he assumed office one year ago, continuing former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “drug war,” which amount to crimes against humanity. Activists, journalists, trade unionists, and critics of the government are still targets of arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. The Nobel Prize laureate and journalist Maria Ressa faces politically motivated charges.

Despite the government’s serious rights violations, the Philippines continue to benefit from the EU Generalized Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+), which grants tariff reductions based on the country’s respect of international human rights conventions. While the EU has expressed concerns over de Lima’s case and other abuses, it is yet to publicly indicate benchmarks that the Philippines should meet in order to comply with its human rights obligations and retain its GSP+ benefits. The European Parliament has repeatedly urged the withdrawal of the Philippines’ approval for the scheme if a lack of progress persists.

The continuing persecution of Leila de Lima is a bellwether of the human rights situation in the Philippines. The EU and other governments should take a firm stand and be clear that without her release, there can be no business as usual.

Myanmar: Lawyers Face Harassment, Arrests

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 8, 2023
Click to expand Image Lawyers in Myanmar protesting the military coup in Mandalay, February 15, 2021. © 2021 Frontier Magazine Lawyers in Myanmar defending anti-coup protesters and critics have faced threats, arrest, and prosecution by the military junta. Those detained have been tortured and mistreated. The military authorities impose systematic obstacles and restrictions on lawyers, impeding their work. The junta has created closed courts inside prisons that violate fair trial rights to fast-track politically sensitive cases. Myanmar’s junta should urgently restore civilian democratic rule. Concerned governments should impose targeted sanctions against junta members implicated in abuses, seek referral of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and adopt a global arms embargo.

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar military junta has threatened and harassed lawyers trying to defend the rights of protesters and others arbitrarily detained since the February 1, 2021 coup, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 39-page report, “‘Our Numbers are Dwindling’: Myanmar’s Post-Coup Crackdown on Lawyers,” examines the junta authorities’ pattern of harassment, surveillance, arrests, and in some cases torture of lawyers since the coup, particularly those taking on political cases. At least 32 lawyers have been arrested and placed in pretrial detention with little evidence supporting the charges against them, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

“At every turn, Myanmar’s lawyers have faced systematic, junta-imposed obstacles and restrictions impeding their work,” said Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military authorities should immediately release all those arbitrarily detained and stop harassing lawyers.”

Since the coup, the junta has arrested and detained thousands of anti-coup activists and critics and prosecuted many for incitement and terrorism in summary trials that do not meet international fair trial standards. Myanmar’s already tenuous justice system has declined drastically, failing to uphold basic due process rights. The junta has created “special courts,” closed courts inside prisons to fast-track political cases. Military tribunals hold summary trials in townships where martial law has been declared. Despite the systematic impediments imposed by the military authorities, lawyers still try to defend the human rights of those arrested.

June 8, 2023 “Our Numbers Are Dwindling”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 19 defense lawyers and 7 legal advisers to international nongovernmental organizations working inside the Myanmar military junta’s special courts system. All 19 lawyers said they had experienced intimidation and surveillance by junta authorities. In some cases, the junta authorities appear to have targeted lawyers in reprisal for representing activists charged with sedition, incitement, or terrorism.

Lawyers also reported ill treatment or torture of detained colleagues. Several sources familiar with the situation of Tin Win Aung, a high court lawyer from Mandalay Region, said he suffered a broken arm and leg, and had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach after beatings by security force personnel during pretrial detention.

One lawyer who spoke to Human Rights Watch shortly after her release from prison said police blindfolded her, placed her in stress positions, and deprived her of food and water during interrogation.

Inside special courts, lawyers and their clients face numerous problems, including being forbidden to privately communicate or discuss their cases prior to hearings. Lawyers said that junta officials frequently obstructed or prevented them from carrying out their professional duties, denying suspects their rights to due process and a fair trial.

In the 47 townships in which the junta has imposed martial law, military tribunals also adjudicate criminal cases involving civilian defendants. The military tribunals also typically operate in prisons. Suspects may not have access to a lawyer, and trials are summary and invariably result in convictions and heavier sentences.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers set out standards that governments should adopt in their national legislation and to ensure that lawyers can exercise their proper role. These principles address access to lawyers and legal services, special criminal justice safeguards, and lawyers’ freedom of expression and association. Myanmar junta authorities have routinely acted contrary to the Basic Principles.

The ability of lawyers to exercise their functions freely and independently is central to the capacity of the justice system to protect fair trial rights. Lawyers need confidential access to their clients to be able to provide prompt, unhindered, and accurate legal advice and ensure the right to a fair trial. Although Myanmar is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to a fair trial is recognized as customary international law and a responsibility of Myanmar as a UN member state.

Foreign governments and regional organizations concerned about the disastrous human rights situation in Myanmar should adopt a range of measures against the military junta, including targeted sanctions against members implicated in abuses and military-linked companies, referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and a global arms embargo.

In pressing for the release of political prisoners, all governments should raise the harassment and jailing of lawyers, and seek to improve their ability to defend those imprisoned, often for years, for peacefully protesting the junta’s abuses.

“The junta authorities are making up the rules as they go, to subjugate and discredit the very people trying to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial,” Maung said. “Concerned governments should act swiftly to ensure that the courageous remaining lawyers trying to protect those rights are not silenced.”

“‘Our Numbers are Dwindling’: Myanmar’s Post-Coup Crackdown on Lawyers” is available at:

Selected Accounts

Lawyer from Yangon speaking to Human Rights Watch, October 2022:

"We are heavily surveilled; we’re told [by the judges] that we can’t ask witnesses certain questions; we receive threats from prison officials, intelligence units, and random people. They take down our names, take photos of us, come to our houses, and watch from outside. The lawyers who are going into the special courts inside the prisons are harassed the most. They have all our details so there is a constant threat hanging over us."

Lawyer describing to Human Rights Watch the torture and mistreatment of the senior lawyer, Tin Win Aung, during his detention at Mandalay’s Oh-Bo prison, October 2022:

"His legs were stretched and cuffed in a wooden shackle. Then they would roll a heavy stick across his tibia, then they stand on his legs, so his tibia bones were fractured. They kicked his chest and back … There were also injuries like being cut with knives. His leg bones were mostly fractured. From the impact of a kick into his chest and back, his lungs were damaged too."

Lawyer outside Yangon speaking to Human Rights Watch after her release, in April 2023:

"They blindfolded me and took me away, to what I assume was a police station. When we got there, I was ordered to kneel down and raise my head for a photograph – they kept my hands tied behind my back. They kept me at the station for a while, then they came to take me to the interrogation place in blindfold … I was still blindfolded and forced to kneel down with my arms tied behind my back and questioned like that for hours each time."

Lawyer speaking to Human Rights Watch in February 2023 shortly after she went into hiding to escape a junta-issued warrant for her arrest:

"In the courtroom, I now have to worry about not getting myself detained rather than speaking the truth. This is especially true when I have to represent political cases. Everyone at the court knows who I am, and the court has all my credentials and personal information. The junta can detain me at any time, and they can and will make up any reasons they want."

EU: Press Vietnam to End Rights Abuses

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 8, 2023
Click to expand Image Twelve Vietnamese rights activists and bloggers currently detained for exercising their basic rights. Top row from left to right: Bui Tuan Lam, Le Manh Ha, Dinh Van Hai, Bui Van Thuan. Center row:  Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Truong Van Dung. Bottom row: Nguyen Lan Thang, Mai Phan Loi, Dang Dinh Bach, Tran Van Bang.  © 2023 Human Rights Watch

(Bangkok) – The European Union should make use of a bilateral dialogue on June 9, 2023 in Hanoi to press the Vietnamese government to end its systemic violations of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam has disregarded the human rights commitments made when signing the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in 2020 and intensified its repression by wrongfully sentencing activists to long prison terms, restricting civil and political liberties, and violating the freedom of religion and belief.

“The EU claimed its 2020 Free Trade Agreement would encourage Vietnam to improve its human rights record, but just the opposite has happened,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hanoi’s disregard for rights has already made it clear that the EU needs to consider actions that go beyond simply issuing statements and hoping for the best.”

Through the creation of a Domestic Advisory Group, the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement was also supposed to promote the participation of independent civil society groups to help oversee the implementation of the trade and sustainable development chapter of the agreement. However, on July 2, 2021, Vietnamese police arrested Mai Phan Loi and Dang Dinh Bach, two active leaders of the nongovernmental organization trade agreement network that civil society groups created to promote their participation in the Domestic Advisory Group. On July 14, the EU group published a letter protesting the arrests of Loi and Bach. In January 2022, they were convicted on baseless charges of tax evasion and sentenced to three years and nine months, and five years in prison, respectively.

Of the Domestic Advisory Group’s seven members approved by the Vietnamese government, at least four organizations are closely linked to the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and chaired by senior party members.

On May 31, Vietnamese authorities arrested Hoang Thi Minh Hong, another prominent environmentalist and climate change campaigner, also on wrongful tax evasion charges.

Human Rights Watch in May made a submission to the EU on the human rights situation in Vietnam, and urged the bloc to press the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all political prisoners and detainees. Specifically, Human Rights Watch raised the cases of Le Manh Ha, Dinh Van Hai, Bui Van Thuan, Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Truong Van Dung, Nguyen Lan Thang, Tran Van Bang, Bui Tuan Lam, Mai Phan Loi, and Dang Dinh Bach. Currently, Vietnam holds more than 150 political prisoners.

On June 6, three days before the human rights dialogue, Vietnam sentenced yet another human rights campaigner, the music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc, to eight years in prison and four years’ probation for expressing his critical views on social, environmental, and political issues.

Human Rights Watch also urged the EU to press the Vietnamese government to amend or repeal the penal code articles 109, 116, 117, 118, and 331, which the authorities frequently use to repress civil and political rights. The government should also repeal or amend articles 14(2) and 15(4) of the constitution, which allow for restrictions on human rights for reasons of national security that go beyond what is permissible under international human rights law.

Vietnam should also end its abusive restrictions on the right to freedom of movement. Human rights and pro-democracy activists frequently face restrictions on leaving their homes or neighborhood, are confronted with intimidation and violence by officials or government-connected thugs, and are prevented from leaving the country. In May, police at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi prohibited the prominent rights defender Nguyen Quang A from leaving for a trip to Europe.

“The EU should get serious about pressing the Vietnamese government to convert rights pledges into genuine reform,” Robertson said. “It’s not much of a rights dialogue if Vietnam officials are just going through the motions, expressing platitudes, and waiting for the meeting to end.”

Justice Denied for Rwanda Genocide Victims

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 8, 2023
Click to expand Image Félicien Kabuga during his Initial Appearance at The Hague on November 11, 2020. © 2020 Leslie Hondebrink-Hermer/UN-IRMCT

A United Nations tribunal in the Hague this week suspended the trial of Félicien Kabuga for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Victims and their families have long waited to see Kabuga held to account for his alleged role in planning, ordering, and carrying out the genocide.

According to media reports, judges said Kabuga, now 90, was “unfit to participate meaningfully in his trial and is very unlikely to regain fitness in the future.” He had refused to attend hearings in person since the trial began in September 2022, and medical experts found him to suffer from “severe dementia.” The judges proposed an alternative legal procedure that “resembles a trial as closely as possible, but without the possibility of a conviction.”

Kabuga was first indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1997. He is accused of being a mastermind of the genocide, having acted as chief financier of the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which during the genocide instructed people to erect barriers and carry out searches, named persons to be targeted and pointed out areas to attack.

Kabuga is also accused of aiding and abetting the Interahamwe, a militia attached to Rwanda’s then-ruling party, which hunted down and slaughtered ethnic Tutsi. He is being tried by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals on charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Between April and July 1994, Hutu political and military extremists orchestrated the killing of approximately three-quarters of Rwanda’s Tutsi population, leaving more than half a million people dead. Many Hutu who attempted to hide or defend Tutsi and those who opposed the genocide were also killed.

Many perpetrators of the genocide, including former high-level government officials and other key figures behind the massacres, have since been brought to justice. While Rwandan courts carried out most of the trials, the ICTR tried the highest-level criminal suspects. Other trials continue to take place before domestic courts in Europe and North America.

Last month, the arrest of Fulgence Kayishema in South Africa brought renewed hope that fugitives alleged to have orchestrated the genocide would face justice, despite the passing of time. This week’s ruling has underscored the urgent need for judicial authorities globally to redouble efforts to deliver justice before it is too late.

Wildfire Smoke in North America Threatens Pregnancy Rights

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image Wildfire smoke covers the New York City skyline, June 7, 2023. © 2023 STRMX/AP Images

Canada’s wildfires have led to unpleasantly hazy skies and unhealthy air across large swathes of North America. The air quality in Canada is horrendous and – in certain areas – some of the worst in the world. Wildfire smoke is harmful to human health and other life, and is a worsening problem because of the climate crisis. Drought, for example, can make it easier for forests to catch on fire and for the fire to spread.

This is bad news for pregnant people in Canada, where fires have also forced people to flee their homes, as well as New York, Washington, DC, and other areas affected by the haze. Maternal health, including fetal development, is especially vulnerable to air pollution. Studies link air pollution with low birth weight, stillbirth, and deadly maternal health diseases like hypertension and gestational diabetes. The impact of tiny particulate matter, called PM 2.5, in wildfire smoke and other air pollution – including from fossil fuel and petrochemical operations – on premature birth rates are so well known that one expert tweeted that we don’t need more studies, only action.

Research by Human Rights Watch and Nurturely, a perinatal rights group in Oregon, shows wealth is a major factor in determining who is exposed to wildfire smoke. Wealthier people with air purifiers, well-built houses, and flexibility about when and where they work, fare better than low-income people, such as migrant workers, who may work outdoors and have no choice but poor-quality housing.

Across the United States, premature birth rates are growing. They are about twice as high for Black women as for white women. Black communities face worse air pollution than others, and may also be more vulnerable to pollution because of systemic racism.

The Biden administration and Congress took steps to address the climate crisis last year, including by enacting the Inflation Reduction Act. However, some lawmakers suggested important maternal health provisions that were not incorporated into the legislation, including in the “Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act.” These provisions would have helped set up protections from the climate crisis for the most at-risk pregnant people, including by procuring more resources for frontline birth workers like doulas. The bill has been reintroduced this year in Congress.

Congress should pass this bill. Wildfire smoke in the US capital should remind lawmakers that air pollution has long been a largely ignored reproductive justice issue and part of the maternal health crisis in the US.

Olympics: Act on Sexual Abuse Complaints by Indian Athletes

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image Indian wrestlers, from right, Bajrang Punia, Sangita Phogat and Vinesh Phogat, ahead of their protest march towards the newly inaugurated parliament, in New Delhi, India, May 28, 2023.  © 2023 AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly

(Nyon, Switzerland) – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should immediately act to ensure reports of alleged sexual abuse of athletes by the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, are investigated fully, the Sport & Rights Alliance said today.

In a statement on May 30, 2023, the IOC called for an “unbiased, criminal investigation in line with local law,” but the Indian authorities have been reluctant to act, only initiating a police investigation after the complainants filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Six women and a child have filed complaints of sexual abuse with the police against Singh, a prominent member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Singh denies the allegations, and made derogatory remarks against the complainants.

“Indian officials might stoutly claim to defend the rights of women and girls, but when it has been put to test by the country’s foremost athletes, the authorities have resorted to victim blaming and shaming,” said Joanna Maranhão, network coordinator of the Sport & Rights Alliance. “It takes a lot of courage to break the silence and disclose a case of sexual abuse. We stand with the athletes and encourage the IOC to protect them, especially in this deeply power-imbalanced situation. Their wellbeing should be the top priority.”

The IOC should call on the Indian government to inform it of progress in the investigation, and to ensure that it is credible and timebound, the alliance said.

Indian authorities have forcibly tackled and detained athletes, including two Olympic wrestlers, when they attempted to march to the inauguration of a new parliament building by the prime minister that Singh was attending. They were later released. However, the authorities disbanded their month-long protest site on May 28.

India’s 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, popularly known as the POSH Act, provides protection to all workers in the public and private sectors including health, sports, education, or government institutions. The 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) forbids all forms of child sexual abuse. Singh, who is also accused under the POCSO Act, has said that the law is being “misused,” and vowed to “force the government to change it.”

At least 30 top Indian wrestlers, both men and women, first protested on January 18, saying that Singh, as well as some coaches, had been sexually abusing athletes. The protests were led by Olympic medal-winning wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and two-time World Championship medalist Vinesh Phogat.

“I started thinking about my brother’s [9-year-old] daughter who has started wrestling,” Phogat told Al Jazeera at a sit-in in the Indian capital, New Delhi – explaining the “trigger point” that made her decide to speak out about the sexual abuse and harassment of wrestlers in India.

The wrestlers called off the protest after they were promised an independent inquiry and that Singh would step aside until the investigation was completed.

The committee has submitted its report, but it has not been made public. Government officials said that the committee had found that Wrestling Federation of India did not have an internal complaints committee mandated by the POSH Act, and failed to take further action against Singh.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is neither independent nor a credible body to carry out an investigation, the Sport & Rights Alliance said. The IOA initially accused the protesting wrestlers of tarnishing India’s image, although its president, Olympic winner PT Usha, later met with the group and pledged support. The athletes resumed their protest after the authorities failed to act, demanding that Singh be arrested.

“In the face of a faltering Indian justice process, the IOC should publicly call on the BJP government to stop suppressing protesters to protect its party member, the Wrestling Federation of India president,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “The IOC has made safeguarding athletes a priority and it should use its leverage and stand with athletes seeking to protect children from abuse in sport.”

The IOC should prioritize the safety and freedom of all athletes, as set out in its own IOC Strategic Framework on Human Rights. Given the inaction of political bodies in India over recent months, the IOC should press the Indian government to ensure that the authorities listen to Indian wrestlers and others affected though a transparent, independent, and impartial investigation into the sexual assault allegations.

The internal investigation should be led by a group of experts with a proven track record in safeguarding and trauma-informed investigations, and with the capacity to actively participate in all matters regarding the process, including to suggest corrections and file complaints, among other functions.

India has made no secret of its national ambitions to host a Summer Olympic Games for the first time. In October, India will host the 140th IOC session in Mumbai, which IOC member Nita Ambani has described as a “first step” toward the realization of a planned 2036 bid. In 2030, India will host the Summer Youth Olympics in Mumbai.

India’s sports minister, Anurag Thakur, says that “it is the right time” for India to host the Olympic Games. The Home Minister, Amit Shah, met with the protesters on June 3. The protesters have since returned to work but have vowed to continue their campaign. The government should now urgently act to address this case and the IOC should ensure that any bid from India is contingent on significant human rights improvements, not least for safety and freedom of the country’s own athletes.

“Indian wrestlers coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse, especially against such a powerful figure, is incredibly brave, difficult, and fraught with personal risk,” said Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran, executive director of The Army of Survivors, a survivor-founded organization formed after the Olympic system’s failure to deal with sexual abuse. “These athletes should be supported and protected, and their courageous demands for justice and safety should be met.”

Saudi Arabia: Pro Golf Merger “Sportswashes” Abuses

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image Golfers walk on the 16th hole during the LIV Golf Invitational at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2022.  © 2022 Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and the Professional Golf Association (PGA) have effectively enabled the Saudi government’s efforts to “sportswash” its egregious human rights record through the announced merger of its LIV Golf and the PGA, Human Rights Watch said today. The merger will place the Saudi government in an unprecedented position of influence and control at the top levels of professional golf.

On June 6, 2023, the PGA Tour announced an agreement combining PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights, including LIV Golf, with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into “a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity.” According to the announcement, the “PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity.” Saudi’s PIF will also have “the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity.” The PGA previously accused LIV Golf of seeking “to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities,” in a United States court case. The parties “agreed to end all pending litigation between the participating parties” as part of their merger.

“Saudi Arabia’s state fund will apparently largely control professional golf while also sportswashing the country’s dismal human rights record,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The surprise announcement reveals the PGA Tour’s hypocrisy – human rights clearly took a back seat to the merger’s financial benefits.”

After the announcement, US Senator Chris Murphy tweeted “So weird, PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport… I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?”

The parties and the new business have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout all its operations. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights sets out these responsibilities, including the expectation that businesses will adopt specific policies and conduct due diligence to identify any risks of contributing to human rights harm. Such harm may include conferring reputational benefits that help cover up human rights abuses. That standard has clearly been breached by the merger, Human Rights Watch said.

In a statement, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said, “I applaud PIF Governor Yasir al-Rumayyan for his vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach.” Under the agreement, al-Rumayyan will reportedly serve as the board chairman of the merged golf leagues.

The PIF is a Saudi government-controlled sovereign wealth fund with approximately US$620 billion in assets under management. It has been directly implicated in human rights abuses through its acquisitions and personnel and has helped Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rehabilitate his international image and whitewash serious ongoing abuses committed by Saudi authorities under his leadership. At least three members of the current board were involved in the abusive “corruption crackdown” in Saudi Arabia in 2017.

In March 2022, Human Rights Watch wrote to al-Rumayyan requesting his response to allegations of serious human rights violations associated with the fund. He has not responded.

Human Rights Watch reported extensively on the November 2017 corruption crackdown, which included detaining dozens of prominent businessmen, royal family members, and current and former officials. Outside of any recognizable legal process, the authorities pressured them to hand over assets in exchange for their release. Some of them remain in detention without charge.

As part of the crackdown, one of Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers ordered al-Rumayyan, then the fund’s “supervisor,” to transfer 20 companies into the PIF, according to internal Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim filed by a group of Saudi companies against a former intelligence official.

One of the companies was Sky Prime Aviation, which owned the two planes later used by Saudi agents to travel to Istanbul, murder the prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate, and return to Saudi Arabia. In February 2021, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report assessing that Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation.

A June 2019 UN report by its then-special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings disclosed that the planes were indeed owned by Sky Prime Aviation, based on flight records from the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation.

Under the agreement, al-Rummayan will not only be board chairman, but will serve on its executive committee, and will join the PGA Tour’s policy committee. The Saudi fund will be the exclusive investor in the new entity, with exclusive rights to invest in the new entity, and a right of first refusal to invest in the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and LIV Golf.

The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural, and sporting events as a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator. The investment in major entertainment, cultural, and sports events is tied to Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a plan to overhaul the country’s economy and attract foreign investors and tourists. Among the programs it has developed to realize its vision is one focused on creating more leisure and recreational options to “enhance the image of the Kingdom internationally.”

“The question for players and sponsors in this new league is whether they want to be associated with the abuses of its most influential shareholder, or will they look the other way if the prize money and profile is enough,” Shea said.

Top Russian Human Rights Defender on Trial

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image Oleg Orlov protesting Russia's abusive war in Ukraine at the Red Square in Moscow, April 2022. His poster reads, 'Our unwillingness to know the truth and our silence turn us into collaborators in crimes.’ © 2022 Memorial

On June 8, Moscow’s Golovinsky district court will hold the first hearing in the criminal trial against Oleg Orlov, a top Russian rights defender and my dear friend, who is facing up to three years’ imprisonment under Russia’s draconian war censorship legislation for repeatedly speaking out against the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

I met Oleg in 2000 at a news conference where he and his colleagues at Memorial, a leading human rights organization in the country, were exposing Russian atrocities in Chechnya and demanding accountability for perpetrators. Afterwards, we lingered over coffee. His fact-based accounts, steeped in gallows humor, and his overwhelming dedication to justice blew my mind and eventually led me to armed conflicts work.

Orlov has a degree in biology. In a different time and country, he might have remained in academia. But in 1979, while working in plant physiology, he couldn’t ignore the horrors of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He made and posted leaflets against the war, which could have landed him in prison for years had he been caught. That’s how it all began.

When Memorial was founded in 1988, Orlov joined in and soon headed its “hot spots” program, doggedly working in conflict zones in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Russia’s Northern Caucasus, and more. I had the privilege of working with him in Chechnya for many years and in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and 2016. Fearless, meticulous, and empathetic, Orlov is a stellar armed conflict researcher and an ideal travel partner who always has your back.

Orlov’s been through indiscriminate shelling, a kidnapping, death threats, the Russian government’s staggering crackdown on critics, and its punitive liquidation of Memorial. Nothing could stop him from his life’s work confronting injustice, exposing crimes by authorities, and assisting civilians who bore the brunt of abusive wars and so-called “counter terrorism operations.”

Earlier this year, when the government launched its criminal case against him, they did not lock him up. He could have fled abroad, as many Kremlin critics have done in the face of raging repression. But, a man of uncompromising principle, Orlov remained.

It would be naïve to expect the authorities to drop the case against him. But we should do our utmost to raise the costs of this politically motivated prosecution and to support a true hero who is standing up to Kremlin’s repression. 

American Churches Launch Initiative to End Israel’s Apartheid

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image  Israeli and Palestine activists hold a banner during a protest to block the new Route 4370 Israeli highway near the Palestinian town of Anata, January 23, 2019. © 2019 Ilia Yefimovich/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

On June 6, faith groups across North America came together to launch the Apartheid Free Communities Initiative. Convened by the American Friends Service Committee, this coalition brings together over 100 congregations, faith groups, and organizations as an interdenominational campaign working to end the crime of apartheid committed against Palestinians.

In recent years, recognition of Israel’s apartheid has grown amongst American Christians. In July 2021, the United Church of Christ’s General Synod became one of the first denominations to pass a resolution recognizing “Israel’s apartheid system of laws and legal procedures” and affirming that the “continued oppression of the Palestinian people remains … a matter of theological urgency.” Since then, several other denominational, state, and local religious bodies such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Vermont, and Chicago have followed suit.

Longstanding relationships with Palestinian partners, recent reports on apartheid by Israeli and global human rights groups, and the deteriorating situation in Palestine have pushed faith communities to speak up more loudly. Dr. Peter E. Makari, Global Relations Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, has said, “It is imperative that we name the reality of laws and practices for what it is: apartheid – both as an international legal definition and as our moral responsibility to speak truth – as we accompany partners in their struggle for justice.”

Israeli authorities systematically privilege Jewish Israelis and repress Palestinians with the objective of maintaining the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians. Human Rights Watch has found that this policy, combined with grave abuses committed against Palestinians, such as sweeping movement restrictions, the mass expropriation of Palestinian land, and the forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes in the occupied territory, amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

The Apartheid Free Communities Initiative includes the Episcopal Peace Fellowship: Palestine Israel Network, Friends of Sabeel North America, Mennonite Palestine Israel Network, United Methodists for Kairos Response, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, and many more. These types of Interdenominational movements are critical to providing a unified voice on human rights issues. While bringing together influential leaders, they are a resource to hold conversation and help educate the public on the reality of human rights abuses experienced by Palestinians every day.

Осужденный адвокат должен быть освобожден

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image  Defendants listen to the verdict in their trial on charges related to the July 2022 protests in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, at a court in Bukhara, Uzbekistan on January 31, 2023. © 2023 AFP via Getty Images

«Вперед, каракалпаки!» — так блогер и адвокат Даулет Тажимуратов отреагировал из «аквариума» в зале суда на решение апелляционной инстанции, оставившей без изменения 5 июня его 16-летний приговор.

Остальным 14 осужденным по «нукусскому делу», возникшему в связи с событиями в Каракалпакстане в июле 2022 года, тюремные сроки были либо сокращены, либо заменены на ограничение свободы — наказания, не связанные с изоляцией от общества. Восемь человек были освобождены в зале суда

Конституция Каракалпакстана провозглашает этот регион «суверенной демократической республикой» «с правом выхода из состава Республики Узбекистан на основании всеобщего референдума народа Каракалпакстана». На апелляционных слушаниях адвокат Тажимуратова Сергей Майоров разъяснял суду конституционность позиции его подзащитного, выступившего против прошлогодних поправок в Конституцию Узбекистана, которые лишали каракалпаков такого права. Гособвинение исходило из того, что это были призывы к сепаратизму. Существуют видеокадры, подтверждающие, что Тажимуратов призывал к мирным протестам и не провоцировал беспорядки.

Human Rights Watch не располагает сведениями о каких-либо заявлениях Тажимуратова накануне июльских протестов, которые можно было бы квалифицировать как уголовно наказуемые в рамках международного права прав человека. Выражение политической позиции и призывы к мирным протестам относятся к охраняемым этими нормами высказываниям.

Очевидна разница в отношении суда к осужденным, которые заявили о раскаянии, и к Тажимуратову, который настаивал на своей невиновности и активно защищался.

Разбирательство по делу Тажимуратова не отвечало стандартам справедливого судебного разбирательства. Его приговор в первой инстанции был основан на назначенных судом «экспертизах» и показаниях свидетелей, которые были убедительно оспорены адвокатом Майоровым на апелляционных слушаниях. Адвокат подробно остановился на нарушениях при проведении «экспертиз», обратив внимание суда на то, что лингвистическую и психологическую оценку высказываниям его подзащитного давали специалисты, не владеющие каракалпакским языком. Власти также не обеспечили эффективного расследования заявлений Тажимуратова о пытках после ареста.

После заседания Майоров назвал решение апелляционной инстанции оставить в силе 16-летный приговор «абсолютно несправедливым и незаконным».

В начале июля в Узбекистане пройдут досрочные президентские выборы. Действующий президент Шавкат Мирзиёев идет на них без реальных соперников, позиционируя себя как реформатор, архитектор «нового» Узбекистана, в котором будут уважаться и соблюдаться права граждан.

Именно на это имеет полное право рассчитывать и Тажимуратов. Его права должны уважаться и соблюдаться, и он должен быть освобожден.

Uzbekistan Should Free Imprisoned Lawyer

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image  Defendants listen to the verdict in their trial on charges related to the July 2022 protests in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, at a court in Bukhara, Uzbekistan on January 31, 2023. © 2023 AFP via Getty Images

“Onward, Karakalpaks!,” shouted blogger and lawyer Daulet Tazhimuratov from his glass cage in the Tashkent courtroom on June 5, minutes after his appeal trial concluded and a judge left his 16-year prison sentence intact.

Fourteen other defendants standing trial with Tazhimuratov for alleged crimes in connection with July 2022 protests in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan’s autonomous region, had their sentences either reduced or converted to noncustodial “restricted freedom” terms. Eight of the defendants were released from the courtroom.

Karakalpakstan’s constitution states that Karakalpakstan is “a sovereign democratic republic” with the right to “secede from the Republic of Uzbekistan on the basis of a nation-wide referendum held by the people of Karakalpakstan.” Tazhimuratov’s position against constitutional amendments proposed in 2022 that would have stripped Karakalpaks of this right were not separatist, as the state argued, but constitutionally protected, his lawyer, Sergey Mayorov, explained to the court during the hearing. There is video evidence that Tazhimuratov called for peaceful protests, not instigated an uprising.

Human Rights Watch has not seen any comments by Tazhimuratov in the lead up to the Karakalpakstan events that would constitute speech that could justifiably be criminalized under international human rights law. Expressing a political opinion and calling for peaceful protests is protected speech.

The difference between the court’s handling of the other defendants, all of whom expressed remorse for their alleged actions, and Tazhimuratov, who maintained his innocence and mounted an active defense in court, was stark.

Tazhimuratov did not get a fair trial. His guilty verdict hinged on court-ordered “expert” conclusions and witness testimony, which his lawyer, Sergey Mayorov, effectively challenged during his appeal. Mayorov detailed in court how the state-ordered “expert” analyses were carried out in violation of Uzbek law and noted that specialists who do not know Karakalpak language conducted linguistic and psychological analyses of Tazhimuratov’s speech. Authorities also failed to effectively investigate Tazhimuratov’s claims of torture while in custody.

After the hearing, Mayorov described the court’s decision to uphold his client’s 16-year prison sentence as “an absolutely unfair, unlawful sentence.”

In early July, Uzbekistan will go to the polls in snap presidential elections. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the incumbent who faces no real challengers, has positioned himself as a reformer who will usher in a “new” Uzbekistan, in which citizen’s rights are respected and upheld.

Tazhimurodov is due no less. His rights should be respected and upheld. He should be freed.

Germany, Namibia Need a Rights-Respecting Reparations Process

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Click to expand Image Chiefs of the Nama and Ovaherero peoples during the annual ‘reparations walk’ in Swakopmund, Namibia, in April 2022, calling for reparations for the ongoing impact of the genocide committed by Germany’s colonial rule between 1904 and 1908. © 2022 OTA and NTLA

The German and Namibian governments are dodging their obligations to ensure the Ovaherero and Nama peoples of Namibia meaningful participation in ongoing negotiations regarding reparations for Germany’s recognized colonial genocide committed between 1904 and 1908.

On February 23, 2023, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs sent communications to the German and Namibian governments to “express grave concern” at both governments’ alleged failure to ensure the right to meaningful participation.

In their letter, the Rapporteurs reminded Germany and Namibia that while they consider the negotiations a political, bilateral process, as laid out in a 2021 joint declaration, the Indigenous Nama and Ovaherero peoples have their own participation and representation rights. Germany attempts to deny its obligation under human rights law granting the affected communities a right to participation in such processes.

The Rapporteurs also stressed that, contrary to Germany’s continued contestations, colonial crimes should be assessed according to “today’s legal standards” and not “racist and discriminatory laws imposed by the colonial power of the time.”

The Rapporteurs expressed concern about Germany’s position against victims’ claims for compensation, as it plans to give only “collective development aid” instead of effective reparations.

Namibia responded to the UN experts on May 30, alleging unfair blame on its government and claiming it has meaningfully engaged with the Ovaherero and Nama peoples. Germany’s June 1 response repeated previous defenses of the process, declaring that both governments “stand by the initialed joint declaration,” and that the Ovaherero Traditional Authorities (OTA) and Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) had “turn[ed] down the Namibian Government’s invitation to take part in the reconciliation process.” In fact, the two groups had refused to recognize the joint declaration because it was negotiated without their participation.

A 2006 Namibian parliamentary resolution had required a tripartite process, which is at the heart of a pending court case before Namibia’s high court brought by the OTA, NTLA, and a coalition of national and international lawyers. The plaintiffs had contacted the Special Rapporteurs in 2022.

The German and Namibian governments should reverse course to guarantee a process that centers direct participation by affected communities to respect their rights to full reparations for ongoing harms inflicted by colonial crimes.

Click to expand Image Chiefs of the Nama and Ovaherero peoples during the annual ‘reparations walk’ in Swakopmund, Namibia, in April 2022, calling for reparations for the ongoing impact of the genocide committed by Germany’s colonial rule between 1904 and 1908. © 2022 OTA and NTLA

Poland: New Law to Bar People from Public Office

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 7, 2023

(Budapest) – Poland should repeal a new law that creates a commission with the power to investigate “Russian influence” in Poland and ban people from public office without judicial oversight, Human Rights Watch said today. Last-minute amendments, currently at parliament, in response to criticism from the European Union and the United States are insufficient to mitigate the risk of the law being used to prevent opposition politicians from holding office.

“Any law that gives powers to a body controlled by the ruling party to determine who can run for office based on vague definitions can easily be misused and is therefore undemocratic, undermines the rule of law, and runs counter to EU law,” said Lydia Gall, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should repeal the law in its entirety.” 

The law creates a powerful new commission, under the aegis of the prime minister’s chancellery and with a chair appointed by the prime minister. It has a mandate to investigate Russia’s influence on any activities or decisions between 2007 and 2022 by elected and public officials and senior executives, as well as judges, prosecutors, and members of the military, among others.

It also authorizes the commission to investigate journalists and civil society organizations for activities or decisions carried out under Russian influence – not defined in the law – that affected internal security or were harmful to state interests. If the commission finds that a person violated the law, it can impose sanctions, including a 10-year ban from public office and running for elections. The decision cannot be appealed on its merits; a violation of the right to a fair trial.

Critics have dubbed the law “lex Tusk” because of concerns it will be used to remove and discredit opposition politicians, notably former prime minister Donald Tusk, in advance of national elections in late 2023.

The law, which entered into force on May 31, 2023, triggered widespread international criticism, including from the EU and US, prompting President Andrzej Duda to propose amendments to the law on June 2. These amendments would strip the power to impose sanctions, create a right to appeal on the merits, and preclude lawmakers from serving on the commission. The commission would, however, still be able to declare that a person has acted under Russian influence and is therefore unfit to perform public duties, a discrediting label. The commission is set to publish its first report in mid-September, before the fall national elections.

President Duda also sent the current law for constitutional review to the Constitutional Tribunal, a politically compromised court unlawfully packed with ruling party judges.

The controversial law, and discontent with the government’s years-long democratic backsliding, has led to large-scale protests in Poland. Since 2015, when the Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power, it has undermined the independence of the judiciary, waged a war on independent journalists, criminalized activities by civil society organizations, prosecuted human rights activists, attacked women’s and LGBT rights, and virtually banned legal access to abortion in Poland. The Polish government has also ignored binding judgments from the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Commission should initiate new legal action – infringement proceedings – against Poland for this most recent rule of law abuse in violation of EU law, Human Rights Watch said.

In response to democratic backsliding in Poland, in 2017 the European Commission initiated proceedings under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, a procedure that could result in stripping Poland of its voting rights at the EU Council.

The Commission has also initiated six infringement proceedings against Poland over its crackdown on judicial independence. It has frozen EU and Covid recovery funds due to rule of law concerns, and frozen funds to regions and municipalities in Poland that declared themselves “LGBT Ideology Free” zones.

“It should be beyond any doubt to the Commission that Warsaw’s latest antics fly in the face of the very values the Commission is obliged to protect,” Gall said. “The Commission should honor the hundreds of thousands of protesters clamoring for democracy and call on Poland to repeal this shameful law.”

Angolan Police Fatally Fire on Fuel-Price Protest

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Click to expand Image Angolan riot police take position after protests over wages in Luanda on August 25, 2022. © 2022 John Wessels/AFP via Getty Images

Angolan police shot and killed at least five people in Huambo province on Monday during a taxi drivers’ protest against a recent fuel-price increase. In a statement seen by Human Rights Watch, the Huambo police said “it was not possible to avoid” the killings, as officers tried to contain “acts of violence” by protesters who destroyed properties, confronted the authorities, and used burning tires to block roads.

The police statement does not explain their use of live bullets against an unarmed crowd. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that police use the minimum necessary force at all times. Firearms may only be used to disperse violent assemblies when other less harmful means are not practicable. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally make lethal use of firearms when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

Various regional protocols ratified by Angola, including the Guiding Principles for the Policing of Assemblies in Africa, similarly provide that officers may only use force when strictly necessary. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

In recent years, and despite some attempts to improve law enforcement, Angolan security forces have continued to use disproportionate and excessive force that has resulted in deaths and injuries. In many cases, unlawful killings have gone unpunished, which creates the impression that Angolan security forces have a license to kill anyone who dares to challenge the government.

Accountability for abuses by security forces is essential to prevent their repetition and end an environment of impunity. The Angolan government needs to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute the Huambo killings as a first step toward introducing visible measures to instill respect for human rights among its security forces.