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Philippines: Spate of Killings of Leftist Activists

Human Rights Watch - 4 hours 2 min ago
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People protest outside of the Armed Forces of the Philippines general headquarters on June 16, against the recent killings of activists Nonoy Palma, Ryan Hubilla, and Nelly Bagasala. 

© 2019 Karapatan (New York) ­ The Philippine government should promptly and impartially investigate the recent spate of killings of leftist activists, Human Rights Watch said today. From June 15 to 17, 2019, unidentified gunmen fatally shot four members of leftist organizations. A labor organizer was also killed on June 2.   During the upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, scheduled to begin on June 24 in Geneva, United Nations member states should ensure an international investigation into the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, including the thousands of unlawful killings under the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s murderous “war on drugs,” the killing of activists, and other serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.   “The recent killings underscore that attacks on leftist activists is a serious human rights problem in the Philippines that has never gone away,” said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Philippine authorities should fully investigate these killings and bring those responsible to justice.”   On June 17, unidentified gunmen shot dead Neptali Morada in Naga City, Camarines Sur province on Luzon island. Morada, 40, was affiliated with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (or Bayan), an alliance of left-wing organization, and was a former staff member of a local politician. A day earlier, gunmen on motorbikes shot Nonoy Palma, 57, a member of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), in Bukidnon province on the southern island of Mindanao.   On June 15, gunmen killed Ryan Hubilla, 22, and Nelly Bagasala, 69, volunteers for the human rights group Karapatan in Sorsogon province on the southern tip of Luzon. On June 2, a gunman on a motorbike fatally shot Dennis Sequena, a labor organizer from Partido Manggagawa (Workers’ Party), as he met with workers in Cavite province, near Manila. Local groups confirmed with Human Rights Watch a number of details about the attacks.   In previous years, Human Rights Watch has documented the killing of numerous leftist activists, peasant leaders, and labor organizers. Many of these killings occurred in the context of the Philippine government’s 50-year-old armed conflict with a communist insurgency. Leaders of indigenous peoples, religious workers, and environmentalists have also been targeted.   Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have linked many of these killings to members of the military, police, or security force-backed militias. Very few of the killings of activists over the years have been seriously investigated, and hardly any have resulted in convictions. Often, the military and police accuse the victims of being either members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines or its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Government officials have recently accused leftist groups that operate openly and legally of being communists, a label that can place their members at grave risk. Journalists and lawyers’ groups critical of the Duterte administration have also been subjected to this “red-tagging.”   The “drug war” killings in the Philippines ­ which have continued unabated with near zero accountability ­ require a long-overdue international investigation, and the attacks on leftist activists and other serious human rights abuses, including attacks against human rights defenders and civil society, should also be urgently scrutinized, Human Rights Watch said. On June 18, Philippine authorities said more than 6,600 people have been killed in the past three years during what they call legitimate police operations against drug suspects. However, nongovernmental groups as well as the national Commission on Human Rights estimate that the death toll is several times higher.   “UN member states should not let another session of the Human Rights Council go by without adopting measures that will put serious human rights violations in the Philippines under scrutiny,” Conde said. “It’s clear that Duterte’s administration will not credibly investigate abuses in the ‘drug war’ and against activists on their own.”

 

Dominican Republic: Policies Fuel Teen Pregnancy

Human Rights Watch - 9 hours 2 min ago

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A 15-year-old girl holds her child at her home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has the highest adolescent pregnancy rate of all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)A 15-year-old girl holds her child at her home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has the highest adolescent pregnancy rate of all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

© 2019 Tatiana Fernández Geara for Human Rights Watch (New York) – Adolescent girls in the Dominican Republic are being denied their sexual and reproductive rights, including access to safe abortion, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The authorities should carry out a new plan for comprehensive sexuality education and decriminalize abortion to curb unwanted teen pregnancy and reduce unsafe abortion.

The 50-page report, “‘I Felt Like the World Was Falling Down on Me’: Adolescent Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Dominican Republic,” documents how authorities have stalled the rollout of a long-awaited sexuality education program, leaving hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls and boys without scientifically accurate information about their health. The country has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The country’s total ban on abortion means an adolescent girl facing an unwanted pregnancy must continue that pregnancy against her wishes or obtain a clandestine abortion, often at great risk to her health and even her life.

“Girls need to be equipped with the information and health services to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and to make informed choices about their bodies and relationships,” said Margaret Wurth, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By denying their sexual and reproductive rights, Dominican authorities are failing to give girls and young women every opportunity to continue their education and live healthy, successful, and fulfilling lives.”

The report is based on interviews with 30 girls and women who became pregnant before turning 18, and dozens of other people including students, LGBT youth, healthcare and social service providers, and experts in the field.

The Dominican Republic’s high teen pregnancy rate is a consequence of the country’s inadequate sexuality education and unmet need for contraception. Public health data shows 20.5 percent of girls and young women ages 15 to 19 in the Dominican Republic become pregnant in their teens. Most of these pregnancies are unplanned or unwanted. Laws criminalizing abortion create pervasive fear and drive abortion underground, forcing women and girls to resort to unsafe measures to end unwanted pregnancies. Expand

Rosa Hernández stands in her home below a photo of her daughter, Rosaura Almonte Hernández, who died in 2012 at age 16. Rosaura, known as “Esperancita,” had leukemia. Doctors initially denied her chemotherapy treatment because she was pregnant, and the Dominican Republic’s abortion ban prohibited her from terminating the pregnancy.

© 2018 Tatiana Fernández Geara for Human Rights Watch

Girls and young women described extreme distress on learning of an unplanned pregnancy. “I felt like the world was falling down on me,” one young woman said. “I was going crazy, thinking I can’t have a kid.” “I was terrified,” said another.

The country’s abortion ban has distinct harmful impacts on adolescent girls, Human Rights Watch found. Sexual activity is often highly stigmatized for adolescent girls. A girl facing an unwanted pregnancy may be less able than an adult woman to seek help, potentially leading her to resort to less safe abortion methods. Several girls and young women said they tried to end a pregnancy clandestinely before age 18. International human rights experts have found that denying girls and women access to abortion is a form of discrimination and jeopardizes a range of human rights.

United Nations experts have urged governments to provide students with comprehensive sexuality education, beginning at an early age. Under international human rights law, as well as domestic legislation in the Dominican Republic, children have a right to information about sexual and reproductive health.

The Dominican Republic has come under international scrutiny for failing to provide scientifically accurate, rights-based sexuality education in schools. In 2015, the authorities announced plans to incorporate comprehensive sexuality education into the national curriculum and developed materials for educators and counselors. But the National Board of Education has not approved the new approach so that it can be carried out nationwide.

Some schools offer sexuality education workshops or instruction, but there is no mandatory and consistent approach. “It is up to the goodwill of the teacher,” one expert said.

A May 2019 order by the education minister mandating the creation of a gender policy for the ministry and the education system could require authorities to provide comprehensive sexuality education. It remains to be seen whether this new strategy will be effectively carried out to ensure adolescent girls’ rights.

Many adolescents in the Dominican Republic also struggle to get confidential, non-stigmatizing health services, and some go without important sexual and reproductive health care, such as contraception. “They don’t receive quality services and confidential treatment,” an expert said. A 2013 Health Ministry survey, the most recent data available, found that 27 percent of girls and young women ages 15 to 19, and 21 percent of those ages 20 to 24 have an unmet need for contraception.

Early pregnancy carries serious health risks for young mothers and their babies. Some of the young mothers interviewed experienced complications during pregnancy or childbirth, some resulting in the babies’ deaths.

Pregnant students and young mothers often find it difficult, or impossible, to continue their education. Some said they faced discriminatory attitudes from teachers or school administrators and left school during pregnancy or after giving birth. Some never returned.

The Dominican Republic should decriminalize abortion, carry our plans to provide comprehensive sexuality education in schools, and address other barriers jeopardizing girls’ sexual and reproductive rights.

“A teenage girl’s life and plans should not be derailed by an unwanted pregnancy,” Wurth said. “Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic should ensure that adolescent girls can get reliable sexual and reproductive health information, including at school, and adequate health services, including safe and legal abortion.”

Guinea: Draconian Forced Evictions

Human Rights Watch - 15 hours 2 min ago
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Rubble of demolished homes in the Dar-Es-Salam neighborhood of Conakry, Guinea’s capital, on June 8, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch.

The Guinean government has razed thousands of homes in the country’s capital, Conakry, leaving families struggling to find adequate housing, Human Rights Watch said today. The government has provided no alternative accommodation or compensation to those displaced, in contravention of international human rights law.

Between February and May 2019, more than 20,000 people were displaced after bulldozers and other heavy machinery demolished buildings and forcibly evicted residents from the Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, Dimesse, and Dar Es Salam neighborhoods. Guinea’s government said that the land belongs to the state and will be used for government ministries, foreign embassies, businesses, and other public works.

“The Guinean government hasn’t just demolished homes, it has damaged peoples’ lives and livelihoods,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The failure to provide alternative housing or even immediate humanitarian assistance to those evicted is a violation of human rights law and shows a blatant disregard for human dignity.”

In March, April, and June, Human Rights Watch interviewed 40 victims of evictions in Conakry, as well as government officials, lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, and politicians. Human Rights Watch also reviewed satellite imagery, which showed that at least 2,500 buildings were demolished in the Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse neighborhoods in February and March and more than 385 buildings in Dar-Es-Salam in May.

The Ministry for Towns and Planning, which oversaw the evictions, maintains that the evicted areas were state land. However, many of the people whose homes were demolished said they had documentary proof that their families had decades-old property rights over the land. “It’s devastating to lose everything you have in 30 minutes,” said Makia Touré, a mother of six who said her family had lived in Kipé 2 since 1985.

International law also provides protections from forced evictions to any occupant of land, whether they occupy the land legally or otherwise. Governments should give victims adequate notice and compensation and should ensure that those evicted have access to alternative housing.

None of the evicted residents Human Rights Watch interviewed had received assistance from the government to find alternative housing, meaning that many were temporarily or, in some cases permanently, homeless once the evictions began. The Ministry for Towns and Planning said that residents either had other properties they could live in or were able to move in with their extended family.

However, Human Rights Watch interviewed several people who, weeks after the evictions, were living in flimsy wooden shelters or squatting in schools or mosques left standing after the evictions. “We have nowhere to go, so we’re just sleeping near to our ruined home,” said a Dar-Es-Salam resident, who slept with more than a dozen people in a wooden structure protected from the rain by canvas sheets.

Other residents who have found alternative accommodation have had to spread family members across different homes or leave Conakry altogether. “My family has left for the interior of the country,” said one Kipé 2 resident. “I’ve stayed near my home but I go to my neighbors’ houses to bathe and eat.” Some people’s new lodgings are far from their place of work and their children’s schools. “Children aren’t attending class anymore because they have left the area,” a middle school teacher from Kipé 2 told Human Rights Watch.

June 18, 2019 Video Video: Draconian Forced Evictions in Guinea

The Guinean government has razed thousands of homes in the country’s capital, Conakry, leaving families struggling to find adequate housing, Human Rights Watch said today. The government has provided no alternative accommodation or compensation to those displaced, in contravention of international human rights law.

 

The Guinean government should ensure that residents who have been forcibly evicted get access to alternative housing of comparable quality to their demolished homes. Guinean authorities should also immediately take steps to create an effective and independent mechanism capable of promptly adjudicating and administering compensation claims related to the evictions.

“Any effort to redevelop land should respect the rights of existing residents,” Dufka said. “The government should immediately stop evictions until it finds a way to compensate those affected and provide them alternative housing comparable to what they left behind.”

Evictions in Koloma

The majority of the estimated 20,000 people evicted came from the Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse neighborhoods, which are 15 kilometers from the center of Conakry, close to the United States Embassy and the headquarters of Guinea’s state radio and television service, Radio Télévision Guinéenne. The Guinean government refers to the area as “le centre directionnel de Koloma,” which it plans to redevelop. A large sign in Conakry’s town center offers a futuristic vision of a new Koloma, which the sign refers to as, “the face of a developing Guinea.”

Prior to the evictions, the area was a mix of businesses, particularly car repair garages, and residential buildings, with concrete housing and some multilevel residences mixed in with some informal dwellings made from wood, corrugated metal, and other material. A prior round of demolitions, in 1998, had destroyed a smaller part of the area.

On February 2, the minister of towns and planning, Ibrahima Kourouma, stated that “illegal occupants” of Koloma had 72 hours to leave the area. On February 19, residents said that government officials and law enforcement placed red crosses on buildings, indicating those marked for demolition. The first demolitions began several days later.

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Satellite images recorded before and after demolitions in the Kaporo Rails, Kipé 2 and Dimesse neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch analysis of the images indicates that at least 2,500 buildings were destroyed in Koloma during the 2019 demolitions.

Before: © Planet Labs 2018. After: © Planet Labs 2019  

Between February 22 and March 26, when the last demolitions occurred, the Association for those Evicted from Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse, a victims’ group, said that 19,219 people were displaced. Mohamed Mahama Camara, secretary-general of the Ministry of Towns and Planning, told Human Rights Watch that he did not believe this figure, and said that no more than 100 families had returned to Koloma after the earlier 1998 evictions. Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch, indicates that at least 2,500 buildings were destroyed in Koloma during the 2019 demolitions, suggesting that thousands of people were impacted.

 

Anger at the evictions on several occasions led young people from the neighborhoods to organize street protests. Guinean gendarmes and police fired teargas to break up protests and, residents alleged, to clear people from areas that were to be, or had been, demolished. Two witnesses said that, on March 14, a 14-year-old girl was hit in the face and seriously injured by a teargas canister fired by gendarmes. The government said that protesters were violent and threw stones at law enforcement.

To justify the evictions, Camara cited a 1989 decree that designated the Koloma area as government land. He said that those living on the land were “squatters,” who were living there illegally. Many of the victims interviewed said, however, that they had documentation showing that their families had acquired the land legitimately before the 1989 decree, such as evidence of government land grants or papers showing that they had bought the land from families with traditional or customary rights. “My family moved in during 1982,” said one resident, who said he had a legal document showing that the state had granted a plot of land to his father, a civil servant. The 1989 decree states that “occupants who developed their land before April 20, 1988 will not be evicted unless they are rehoused and compensated for the value of their assets.”

A group of residents from Kipé 2 filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the evictions in 2018, after bailiffs had visited the area to inform occupants that they were living on state land and were required to leave. A first instance court ruled against them on March 1, but the case was appealed the same day. The appeal was pending when demolitions began in the Kipé 2 area on March 12. International standards require that affected residents be given the opportunity to challenge eviction decisions through judicial review.

Evictions in Dar Es Salam

The demolitions in Dar Es Salam occurred near Conakry’s largest garbage dump where, in August 2017, nine people died when a landslide stemming from nearby piles of trash covered several houses. Residents said that the government had since November 2017 warned more than 200 families living close to the garage dump that they would be subject to eviction.

Despite the proximity to the garbage site, the neighborhood where evictions occurred was largely made up of family houses made of stone and brick, some of them multilevel. Several of the residents said that their families have lived in the area for decades, often before the site began to be used as a garbage dump. “I’ve lived here for 43 years,” said one 60-year old resident. “My family bought the land from one of the area’s original inhabitants.”

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Satellite images recorded before and after demolitions the Dar-Es-Salam neighborhood. Human Rights Watch analysis of the images Watch shows that at least 386 buildings were destroyed in Dar Es Salam in the May demolitions. Before: © Planet Labs 2019. After: © Planet Labs 2019.

Before: Satellite images recorded before and after demolitions in the Dar-Es-Salam neighborhood. Analysis of the imagery by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 386 buildings were destroyed in Dar Es Salam in the May demolitions. © 2019 Planet Labs After: © Planet Labs 2019  

On May 23, heavy machinery began demolitions in the area, with residents saying they received only a few days’ warning that demolitions were to start. Local people sought to prevent the demolitions but were eventually repulsed by a law enforcement response that, witnesses said, included helicopters flying overhead, dozens of gendarmes, and teargas. At least one person was injured by stray bullets fired during clashes between residents and the security forces. The towns and planning ministry said it warned residents to leave the site on multiple occasions and, when they refused to do so, it was necessary to use coercive measures.

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More than 385 buildings destroyed in the Dar-Es-Salam neighborhood in May 2019.

 

By the afternoon of May 24, the first phase of demolitions, targeting houses whose residents had been warned about evictions in 2017, was complete. Later that day, witnesses said, government officials, protected by a cordon of gendarmes, placed red crosses on other houses in the area whose inhabitants had not previously been warned about evictions. Residents said they were given 72 hours to remove their belongings. These houses, witnesses said, were demolished on May 27. “They told us on Friday our homes would be targeted, and by Monday everything was destroyed,” said a Dar-Es-Salam resident. “How can that happen?”

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 386 buildings were destroyed in Dar Es Salam in the May demolitions.

No Alternative Housing

Respect for the right to adequate housing is protected under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Guinea ratified in 1978. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors the covenant’s implementation, has said that governments must take “all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing” is available after evictions. The United Nations Basic-Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement make clear that safeguards against forced evictions, including the right to alternative housing, apply “irrespective of whether [those evicted] hold title to home and property under domestic law.”

Residents of Koloma and Dar Es Salam said that, while they knew that the government was seeking to remove them, the lack of notice about when demolitions would start, the speed with which they occurred, and the government’s failure to provide any assistance left many people homeless. “We spent five days sleeping under a tree near our demolished house, with mosquito nets for the children,” said Onivogui Sayon, who lived in Kipé 2 with his wife and two children. “We finally found some friends to take us in.”

The United Nations Basic-Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement require governments to resettle families or to ensure that they have access to alternative accommodation before evictions begin. “If they had at least given us a month, we could have found somewhere to live,” said Amadou Saikou Diallo, a Kaporo-Rails resident. Several weeks after the evictions, Diallo said he was moving from one friend’s house to another to sleep at night. “I keep my clothes, shoes, and toiletries in my backpack,” he said.

In a speech to residents of Kaporo-Rails in 2016, President Condé promised that the government would respect residents’ rights and provide alternative accommodation in case of evictions. “We are not going to throw people in the street,” he said. So far, however, the government has provided no alternative housing to those evicted, even to vulnerable families unable to find adequate accommodation on their own.

Camara, the towns and planning ministry secretary general, said that many of the evicted residents had other homes or properties that they could live in. He also said that, if needed, they could find accommodation with family members. “These evictions haven’t made anyone homeless,” he said. But weeks after the evictions, several people interviewed were still living close to the ruins of their former home. Some took refuge under shelters hastily constructed from scavenged wood, while others lived in nearby schools or mosques. “I have to live outside with my elderly mother and wife,” said Oumar Bar, who previously shared a house with his two brothers and their families. “I’m scared because with no electricity there’s no light at night and no security.”

An elderly widow in Dar Es Salam showed Human Rights Watch the temporary wooden structure where she lives, next to the ruins of her house. She shares the hut, which only has a wall on one side, with some of her children and grandchildren, the youngest an 8-month old baby. “Our homes were destroyed during Ramadam,” she said. ‘We have nowhere else to go.”

Although many residents have found alternative housing, they have often had to split up their immediate family, move to other neighborhoods, or leave Conakry. “To separate a mother from her children is a horrible thing,” said Makia Touré, a widow who is now living with an uncle, 50 kilometers away. Her six children, three of whom are 10 or under, are spread out among her relatives so that they can remain close to their schools. She worries that, as a widow and single parent, she won’t be able to afford another home. “The house we owned was the only way for me to live, because we didn’t pay rent,” she said.

Moving away has also forced some children to find new schools or stop their education. “My brothers and sisters are all at home now,” said Thierno Ibrahima Diallo, who has two 8-year-old siblings and another who is 4. “We’re living in Coyah, and it’s too far from their old school.” Another resident has moved his children to Boké, a town 250 kilometers from Conakry. His oldest child, an 8-year-old girl, has left her school in Conakry. “She’ll start school again next year,” he said.

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A child’s homework among the rubble of demolished homes in the Kaporo-Rails neighborhood of Conakry on March 23, 2019. 

© 2019 Samantha Lint

Some residents feared that the profound trauma caused to children who saw their homes destroyed in front of them would have a lasting psychological impact. “We spent our whole childhood here,” said Diallo. “We grew up with neighborhood elders, going to the same cultural events. I felt like we were all from the same family. And now they’ve destroyed everything.”

Lack of Compensation

The vast majority of the evicted residents interviewed said that they had not received any compensation from the government. “We’ve received no compensation or humanitarian assistance,” said Adama Haura Barry, a Kipé 2 resident. None of the evicted residents interviewed in Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse had received any compensation. In Dar Es Salam, the government offered a portion of those evicted a lump sum of 20 million GF ($2,190), which several people said fell far below the value of their property. Residents said any compensation payments should be based on an assessment of the actual value of their land and homes.

Camara said that those evicted did not have a right to compensation because they were occupying the land illegally. He also said that some households had received compensation in past eviction operations and had simply reoccupied the land. Condé reportedly said on April 25 that “only people holding land titles that have been properly authenticated have the right to compensation from the State.”

Residents, however, said that the government should at least consider households’ claim to have longstanding property rights, supported by documentation, before determining whether to award compensation. “A blanket refusal to consider compensation means that the government is flouting victims’ rights,” said Mamadou Samba Sow, the spokesperson for a victims’ group.

International standards also make clear that the government should provide some form of compensation even to occupants without legally-recognized property rights. The United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement state that:

All those evicted, irrespective of whether they hold title to their property, should be entitled to compensation for the loss, salvage and transport of their properties affected, including the original dwelling and land lost or damaged in the process. Consideration of the circumstances of each case shall allow for the provision of compensation for losses related to informal property, such as slum dwellings.

Government officials said that those evicted had the right to seek compensation by filing a legal complaint. Several residents said, however, that they did not believe that the Guinean justice system, which has a history of corruption and political interference, provided a fair and independent system for seeking compensation. On June 3, the Association for those Evicted from Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse filed a complaint to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), asking the government to restitute lost land, provide the compensation needed to reconstruct homes, and pay additional damages.

To respond to the impact of the evictions, the Ministry of Towns and Planning should:

  • Take steps to immediately establish an independent and fair system to assess claims and promptly and fairly award appropriate compensation, based on a household-by-household assessment of property rights and the value of their assets;
  • Provide alternative housing to any residents who have not been able to find adequate housing of their own;
  • Halt any further evictions until it can guarantee respect for the rights of residents, including adequate notice, and compensation and resettlement prior to evictions.

Egypt: Independently Investigate Morsy’s Death

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 17, 2019
 

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should be investigated for the mistreatment of former President Mohamed Morsy, who died on June 17, 2019, after years of insufficient access to medical care, Human Rights Watch said today.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, whose next session begins on June 24, should establish an investigation into ongoing gross violations of human rights in Egypt, including widespread ill-treatment in prisons and Morsy’s death.

“Former President Morsy’s death followed years of government mistreatment, prolonged solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, and deprivation of family visits and access to lawyers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “At the very least, the Egyptian government committed grave abuses against Morsy by denying him prisoners’ rights that met minimum standards.”

Egypt’s national television station announced that Morsy, 68, died after falling into a coma while in a cage in a courtroom during one of his trials. Late in the evening, Egypt’s Prosecutor General’s Office released a statement saying that the judge allowed Morsy to talk for five minutes in the courtroom before he lost consciousness. The statement said that a team of investigators including the director of the Forensic Medical Authority will examine the camera recordings from the courtroom and Morsy’s health file. The statement did not specify the direct reason for his death.

The Egyptian government failed for six years to provide Morsy his basic rights as a detainee, including sufficient medical care and family visits, despite his apparently deteriorating physical condition and his repeated requests to the judiciary for access to medical treatment. This treatment violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and contravenes the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners. His ill-treatment might amount to torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture.

Morsy was elected president in Egypt’s first and only fair and free presidential election following the 2011 uprising. Morsy remained in office for one year. Then, following mass protests demanding early elections, military forces headed by General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, Morsy’s former defense minister, overthrew Morsy, with support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Sisi became president shortly afterward. His forces arrested Morsy in July 2013. Morsy’s family told Human Rights Watch that they were able to see him in prison only three times in the ensuing six years.

During their last visit, in September 2018, three members of security agencies accompanied the family during the entire visit, and one of them took notes of the conversation between Morsy and his wife and children, family members said. Morsy told his family he had no bed in his cell in Cairo’s al-Molhaq Prison, part of Tora Prison Complex, and that he developed back and neck pains from sleeping on the bare floor. He also told them he developed a condition in his left eye for which the prison doctor said he might need an operation, but that there was no medical follow-up for these health concerns. His requests to be examined by independent health professionals were repeatedly ignored.

Morsy was diabetic and had stated to judges on previous occasions that he suffered diabetic comas in detention because of the lack of proper medical attention regarding his insulin dosage and diet. He also said that he avoided prison meals for periods because he was afraid for his life and relied only on canned food. Judges hearing the various cases against him never ordered an investigation of his detention conditions. Even when they ordered prison officials to allow him visits, the security officials would ignore the judges’ orders, a family member said.

A family member told Human Rights Watch that even during court sessions, security forces kept the former president inside glass barriers that isolated him from other prisoners and his lawyers. The media had largely been banned from covering his trials.

The family member described Morsy’s situation as “complete isolation.” The family member said that even during exercise hours in prison, Morsy was not allowed to see any other prisoners. The relative also said that prison authorities did not allow Morsy to watch television or read newspapers and that he was unaware of major news events over the past two years, such as when the government floated the Egyptian pound in 2016, substantially reducing its value.

The family member said that Morsy’s isolation significantly worsened after the assassination of the prosecutor general Hisham Barakat in June 2015. At the time, al-Sisi appeared to be ordering tougher security measures against prisoners.

Egyptian courts had convicted Morsy of charges including alleged espionage and instigating violence. He had exhausted his appeals in at least three of the cases, and had been sentenced to 48 years in prison, but was in the midst of a retrial on charges in another espionage case. Human Rights Watch concluded that the proceedings against Morsy failed to meet basic measures of due process and appeared to be politically motivated.

Under al-Sisi’s government, security forces arrested tens of thousands of dissidents, many of them arbitrarily. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have long documented the systematic ill-treatment in Egypt’s prisons, lack of sufficient medical care as well as systematic, widespread torture in unofficial detention facilities by the police and National Security Agency officers.

“The Egyptian government deliberately singled out former President Mohamed Morsy for especially harsh treatment and isolation,” Whitson said. “Whatever one’s views of Morsy’s politics, his treatment was horrific, and those responsible should be investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”

 

Film Shows Surge in Support for Intersex Autonomy

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 17, 2019
Over the past few years, there’s been a significant and much-needed increase in attention to the basic rights of intersex people. A documentary screening this week at the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York City, No Box for Me: An Intersex Story, tells two stories that show why that push is so necessary. 

M is 27 years old. Deborah is 25. Like an estimated 1.7 percentof people, they were born with variations in their sex characteristics that differ from conventional understandings of male or female – often called intersex. For M, growing up intersex has also meant grappling with the fact that she underwent medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalize” her body as a child – before she could even understand what was happening to her. 

Intersex variations are medically benign, yet in the 1960s surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. 

These procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem and there is no evidencethat such operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations do however carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma. And they continue today – in the US and around the world. Most recently, the European Parliament passed a resolutionaffirming intersex people’s rights to bodily autonomy and calling on governments to prohibit the non-consensual surgeries that have negatively impacted so many intersex people’s lives.  

In the film, when M meets Deborah online, she is introduced to new voices, language, and representations that help her understand who she is in more than just medical terms. At one point in the film, we “meet” Pidgeon Pagonis, an intersex activist and YouTube starfrom Chicago whom I met in 2017 to document their story. 

This tender documentary joins M, Deborah, and other brave young people as they seek to reclaim their bodies and explore their identities – revealing both the limits of binary visions of sex and gender and the irreversible physical and psychological impacts of non-consensual surgeries on intersex infants.

 

In Spain, People with Disabilities Are Trapped at Home

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 17, 2019

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An older woman takes a break from walking, as an older man who uses crutches gets assistance to cross the street in Madrid, Spain, March 21, 2014.

2014 Andres Kudacki / AP Images Faced with inaccessible buildings and insufficient support services, 100,000 people with physical disabilities, including older people, in Spain remain trapped in their homes, according to a shocking new report published last week.

Researchers examined the situation for the 2.5 million people with physical disabilities living in Spain and found that more than 1.8 million of them need help to be able to leave their homes. Those who can’t get that support are condemned to stay inside, something which could easily change if buildings itself were made accessible. “We found people who are imprisoned in their own home due to the lack of accessibility in their own building,” said Laura López, director of Fundación Mutua de Propietarios, one of two groups which co-authored the report.

In 2007, Spain ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which requires governments to ensure that the physical environment and public services, including housing, are equally accessible to people with disabilities as to those without.

Spain passed a new law in 2013 based on the premise that universal accessibility helps guarantee equal opportunities and treatment for people with disabilities. This legislation made homeowner associations responsible for ensuring their buildings are accessible to all people, and set December 2017 as the deadline to eliminate architectural barriers.

But a March 2018 report by the UNESCO Chair on Housing and the Fundación Mutua de Propietarios found that only 0.6 percent of Spain’s 9.8 million residential buildings meet accessibility standards for those with physical disabilities.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities similarly criticized Spain earlier this year, noting that “measures taken to ensure universal accessibility, particularly for private buildings, have been insufficient or ineffective.” It recommended the government take “all legislative and budgetary measures” necessary to fix the problem.

Spain should show it’s committed to keeping its promises under international law, including by taking clear action to guarantee all Spaniards enjoy accessibility. Because nobody should ever be trapped in their own home. 

Africa: Pregnant Girls, Young Mothers Denied School

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, June 16, 2019
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Survivors of attack on their primary school in Kazumba territory in December 2016.  © Holly Cartner, October 2018

(Nairobi) – Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are denied their right to education across Africa, despite progress in some countries, Human Rights Watch said today to mark the African Union’s Day of the African Child. The 2019 theme focuses on children’s rights in humanitarian action in Africa.   The African continent has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, according to the United Nations. While many pregnancies are unplanned, others occur in child marriages, a widespread problem that many African governments are failing to address effectively. Other causes include sexual exploitation and abuse, lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and lack of access to family planning services and modern contraception. In humanitarian crises, including war and natural disasters, girls and young women are at high risk of sexual violence and exploitation, which often results in unwanted pregnancies.   “A shocking number of girls across Africa become mothers before they’ve grown up themselves, including those caught in humanitarian crises,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Many adolescent mothers don’t return to school because their schools exclude them, or their families don’t let them continue their education.”   Across Africa, students are barred from school because they became pregnant or are mothers. Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Equatorial Guinea explicitly ban pregnant girls from attending school. In November 2018, the World Bank withheld a US$300 million loan for secondary education in Tanzania, expressing concern over its exclusion of pregnant girls and teenage mothers. Following discussions between the World Bank and President John Magufuli, the government committed to finding ways for the girls to return to school. But the government has not fulfilled this commitment, leaving thousands of girls out of school.   In June, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hear a case against Sierra Leone challenging the country’s discriminatory ban against pregnant girls. The ban has been in place since the Ebola outbreak in 2015, when teenage pregnancies surged because of widespread sexual violence against girls, Amnesty International reported.   Human Rights Watch found that 27 African countries now have laws or policies that protect adolescent girls’ education during pregnancy and motherhood. Among recent important steps to safeguard their education, in July 2018 Burundi overturned a hastily adopted ministerial decree that would have banned pregnant girls, and boys who got them pregnant, from school. In December, Mozambique revoked a discriminatory 2003 decree that forced pregnant girls to take classes at night school. In February 2019, Zimbabwe introduced an amended education bill that protects pregnant girls from exclusion.   All children, including pregnant girls and young mothers, have a right to continue or resume education during humanitarian crises, or to participate in accelerated education programs if they have been out of school for a long period.   Some countries with ongoing humanitarian crises, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and South Sudan, have adopted laws that protect young mothers’ right to return to school, but need education policies to make sure the laws are enforced. Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic lack a targeted law or policy.   In the Democratic Republic of Congo, over 48 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 19 are pregnant or already mothers. A report by the Global Coalition to Prevent Education from Attack found that girls struggle both from the stigma as survivors of rape and sexual violence and pregnancy as a result of those crimes. Some girls said that they were not able to obtain psychosocial (mental health) services or receive support to resume education. Many struggle with rejection in their families and communities, particularly those girls who were formerly members of armed groups.   In these crisis-affected countries, neither national education sector plans nor UN-led humanitarian plans include the education needs of girls who are pregnant or have children, Human Rights Watch said. This means interventions to help children continue or resume education during times of crisis fail to address the educational needs of pregnant girls and young mothers. The humanitarian needs analysis typically focuses exclusively on the health and nutritional needs of mothers and their children.   “I did return to school because I want to continue with my studies, but it is not easy,” said Olivia B., a 24-year-old college student from Kananga, in Congo’s Kasai region, who was raped by a militiaman while fleeing an attack on her school. “Students are teasing me. I don’t feel well at school... They criticize me… I feel afraid and ashamed ... No teachers, professors, or anyone else has intervened to help me. There is no program or anything else to support me.”   The failure to ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are supported to go to school in humanitarian settings not only limits access to education, but also exposes already vulnerable children to more violence, hardship, and poverty, Human Rights Watch said.   Humanitarian education programs should be inclusive, and ensure that temporary and permanent school environments and infrastructure accommodate girls’ needs. African governments should adopt legal protections for pregnant girls, and ensure that their national education plans, including education in emergencies or crisis response plans, include measures to enable pregnant girls and adolescent mothers to continue their education.   In addition to their fundamental obligation to guarantee the right to education, free from discrimination, governments should adopt measures to ensure education is not interrupted during humanitarian crises. Under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, African governments have a specific obligation to take all possible measures to protect children affected by conflict, especially to mitigate the disproportionate effects of conflict on girls, and to take measures to ensure girls are not exposed to sexual violence, or forced into marriage.   “Education is crucial for all children, and especially so for girls whose childhood and education have been disrupted by pregnancy,” Martinez said. “All African governments, humanitarian and development agencies, and donors should ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent parents have the support they need to stay in school.”  

Top Human Rights Tweets of the Week

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trending rights tweets this week: Italy is criminalizing rescues at sea; Sudan shuts down the Internet in the face of protests; the refugee catastrophe Maduro has caused in Venezuela; and a moving new feature highlights the need for Mozambique to get kids with albinism back in school.

European Court Condemns Greece’s Migrant Kid Lockups

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, June 15, 2019
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Unaccompanied children line up for an evening meal at a detention facility run by the Greek police.
 

© 2015 Kelly Lynn Lunde

This week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled for the second time in four months against Greece’s abusive practice of locking up unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in police cells under the so-called “protective custody” regime.

The problem seems to be getting worse. As of May 31, 123 unaccompanied children were still detained in police station cells or immigrant detention centers across the country. That’s 43 more kids than were being detained at the end of March, just as the court first ruled against the practice.

Human Rights Watch has found that detained children are forced to live in unsanitary conditions, often alongside adults they do not know, and can be abused and ill-treated by police. Detention can also have serious long-term impacts, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory loss, and harm to children’s development.

To make things worse, because they are in detention, these kids – who may have suffered horrific experiences while escaping from war zones – are often unable to receive medical treatment, psychological counselling, or legal aid. Few even know why they’re detained or how long they will be behind bars.

The latest ruling concerns five unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, aged between 14 and 17, who first applied to the European Court in 2016. The court ruled that the detention in police stations of three of the children violated their right to liberty, and that conditions there exposed them to degrading treatment. The court also held that the authorities had not done all that could reasonably be expected of them to provide for and protect four of the children, who had lived for a month in the makeshift Idomeni refugee camp in an environment unsuitable for adolescents.

The Greek government should respond to the ruling by immediately transferring all kids now in police custody to open and safe accommodation. Greece should also work to increase its shelter capacity, find alternatives to detention, and implement a comprehensive foster family system introduced in 2018, which would also benefit Greek children.

Unaccompanied kids in Greece should not have to spend another day locked up in filthy police cells. 

Thailand: Authorities Punish Mockery of Junta

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 14, 2019

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Thai authorities ordered French national Yan Marchal (pictured) to give a public apology and delete his music video parody, which made fun of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. 

 

© 2019 Yan Marchal (New York) – Thai authorities are harassing and intimidating social critics for mocking Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha after he assumed the premiership for another term, Human Rights Watch said today.

In three instances in June 2019, Thai security forces and other officials have pressured a foreign satirist, a well-known comedian, and high school students to retract or apologize for videos or photos on social media deemed to make fun of military dictatorship.

“The Thai junta obviously has no sense of humor since even the slightest ridicule can result in thuggish intimidation or threats of prosecution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prime Minister Prayuth is starting his second term with the same disregard for basic rights that characterized his first.”

On June 12, police officers went to the house of French national Yan Marchal in Bangkok and ordered him to post an apology on his Facebook page for his music video mocking the anthem of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. Officers told Marchal to write a written promise that he would not do it again. Fearing possible prosecution and deportation, he also had to delete the parody clipwhich had gone viral with more than one million views online, from all of his social media accounts. In addition, the authorities ordered him to sign a memorandum in which he admitted that making fun of the junta was an “improper act” that caused damage to the NCPO and the people of Thailand.

On June 11, Thai authorities pressed a famous comedian, Naphat Chumjittri (also known by his stage name King Gornbai), to tell his fans to delete a video clip, in which he mimicked Prime Minister Prayuth’s media interviews and joked about military rule.

The authorities have even targeted high school students for ridiculing the junta. On June 13, soldiers and police officers went to Chumpholphonphisai School in Nong Khai province and ordered students to delete all photos on their social media accounts about their Teacher’s Day activities, in which they made pedestal trays with satirical messages about military dictatorship and the junta’s manipulation of the general election to prolong Prime Minister Prayuth’s rule.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, has stated in a general comment on freedom of expression that:

“[T]he mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.... Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition. Accordingly, the Committee expresses concern regarding laws on such matters as … disrespect for authority … and the protection of the honor of public officials. [Governments] should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

The recent harassment of social critics reflects the broader suppression of freedom of expression and the media since the military coup in May 2014. Thai authorities have continually harassed, threatened, and prosecuted dissidents and other critics of the junta in violation of their fundamental rights. The failure of the police to arrest any suspects for recent violent attacks against prominent dissidents raises serious concerns about possible government involvement.

“Prime Minister Prayuth should order officials and security forces to immediately cease all actions to silence and punish peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Thailand’s friends should not let the recent elections become an excuse for ignoring the deteriorating rights situation in the country.”

Yemen: Attack on Saudi Airport Apparent War Crime

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 14, 2019
(Beirut) – Houthi forces in Yemen attacked a Saudi civilian airport on June 12, 2019, in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. Commanders who order deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilian objects are responsible for war crimes.  Expand

Photograph released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency shows debris on the tarmac of Abha Regional Airport in Saudi Arabia after an attack by Yemen's Houthi forces, June 12, 2019. 

© 2019 Saudi Press Agency via AP   Houthi-aligned media reported that a “winged cruise missile” struck Abha Regional Airport in southern Saudi Arabia at 2:21 a.m. The Saudi-led coalition announced in the official Saudi Press Agency on June 12 that an unidentified weapon had struck the Abha airport arrivals hall and injured 26 people. Eight were taken to the hospital with “medium” injuries and 18 others were treated at the scene. The Saudi Press Agency statement also carried photos showing damage to the airport.   “The Houthis should immediately stop all attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen never justify Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians.”   Houthi-aligned media stated that the Houthis launched a cruise missile at the airport control tower, suggesting the attack was deliberate. A Houthi spokesperson added that the Abha airport strike followed other recent strikes on nearby King Khalid Airbase and Jizan airport. Saudi sources have not confirmed these attacks. Abha Regional Airport is a civilian airport 110 kilometers from the Saudi border with Yemen and 15 kilometers west of King Khalid Air Base, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest military airbases. Airport authorities announced on Twitter at 1:06 p.m. that airport operations had resumed as normal.   The attack on the Abha airport is the latest indiscriminate Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen. Houthi forces have repeatedly launched rockets and missiles toward populated areas in Saudi Arabia. Most of these attacks involved ballistic missiles that were intercepted by Saudi air defenses. Previous attacks resulted in deaths and injuries from falling debris, including the death of an Egyptian man and injuries to two other men in Riyadh on March 25, 2018, the death of a Saudi man in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan Province on April 28, 2018, and the death of a Saudi man and injuries to 11 others in Jizan Province on August 8, 2018.   Houthi authorities have repeatedly indicated that they consider civilian airports to be valid targets and have announced airport attacks to the media. Houthi-aligned media previously reported that Houthi forces attacked Abu Dhabi International Airport in July 2018 and Dubai International Airport in August and September 2018 using drones, but United Arab Emirates authorities denied these claims.   On June 9, a Houthi spokesperson tweeted that coalition airports would be targeted in response to the continued coalition closure of Sanaa’s international airport. Following the June 12 attack, a Houthi spokesperson warned “civilians and companies” in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to stay away from all airports, in addition to military locations.   In November 2017, the coalition blocked all Yemeni land, air, and sea ports in response to a Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh’s international airport. The coalition eased some restrictions in late 2017 but has continued to impede aid and commercial imports from reaching Houthi-controlled ports. It has kept Sanaa International Airport, Yemen’s main airport, closed since August 2016, worsening the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.   Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes, killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian objects in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have used banned antipersonnel landmines, recruited children, and fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, killing and wounding civilians.   Under the laws of war, attacks against civilians or attacks that cannot distinguish between civilians and military objectives are prohibited. Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime.   “The deaths and suffering of Yemeni civilians at the hands of the Saudi and UAE-led coalition provide absolutely no excuse for Houthi forces to commit unlawful attacks on Saudi civilians,” Page said.

Disparaging Film Review Can Mean Jail Time in Nepal

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 14, 2019
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A journalist protests a set of laws that threaten to curb free speech, Kathmandu, Nepal, September 19, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo

The recent crackdown on journalists in Nepal is bad enough, but now the authorities have gone one step further and jailed a comedian for critiquing a film.

Pranesh Gautam, 24, an architect and part-time comedian who posts on a popular YouTube channel called Meme Nepal, was arrested on June 7 for a video he uploaded two weeks earlier poking fun at a new film, Bir Bikram 2. The film’s director, Milan Chams, complained to the police about the bad review, and Gautam was arrested soon afterward under the Electronic Transaction Act.

This is the latest of at least seven cases since the current government came to power in early 2018 in which authorities have misused legislation designed to prevent online fraud to persecute ordinary speech.

The police posted a photograph of Gautam on their Facebook page saying that he was arrested under the law “for using YouTube to spread wickedness and defame the film industry.”

One would think that Nepal’s filmmakers and producers would be outraged by this gross misuse of the law. Maybe many were, but several leading film industry figures, instead of upholding Nepalis’ right to free expression, visited the Kathmandu police station where Gautam was jailed to insist that the young comedian be sternly punished. Chams, the film director, insisted, “These kinds of elements harm the society and we need to get rid of them.”

Gautam was freed on bail on June 13 after a week in custody, but the authorities have not dropped the case. If convicted, Gautam could face up to five years in prison and a US$900 fine.

Ironically, even as Gautam was being detained, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was speaking at the Oxford Union in the United Kingdom, extolling the importance of freedom of speech “for people and society to grow, develop, and prosper.” If Oli truly believes his words, he should amend the numerous abusive provisions in new media laws he’s putting before parliament.

Under international human rights law everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Any restriction on free speech must be limited and proportionate, and imposed only for certain important reasons such as protecting public order.

Annoying a film director by criticizing his movie doesn’t even come close to meeting these criteria.

Global Call to Reform Japan’s Law on Transgender People

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 14, 2019

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Fumino Sugiyama, a transgender man, holds his Japanese ID card, which reads “female,” at his home in Tokyo.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch A leading international health organization has urged the government of Japan to reform its legal recognition procedure for transgender people.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), comprised of more than 2,000 global healthcare professionals, wrote to the health and justice ministries in Tokyo last week calling on them to revise a law that requires trans people to be given a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and undergo sterilizing surgery if they wish to change their legal gender.

Currently, transgender people who want to do this in Japan must appeal to a family court under the Gender Identity Disorder Act, which was enacted in 2004. The procedure is discriminatory, requiring applicants to be single and without children under age 20, and demands trans people not only undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a “gender identity disorder” diagnosis, but that they are sterilized too. March 19, 2019 Video Japan: Compelled Sterilization of Transgender People

Japan’s government should stop forcing transgender people to be surgically sterilized if they want legal recognition of their gender identity.

The WPATH letter explains: “Some transgender people want to undergo hormonal treatment, surgical procedures, or other medical interventions as part of their transition. Others do not.” It adds that “mandatory use of medical services as part of the legal recognition process is not recommended on the basis of science or human rights.”

Last month, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) approved a major change to its global manual of diagnoses that reframes “gender identity disorders” as “gender incongruence” and moved it from being listed with “mental disorders” to a chapter on sexual health. It is an important development for transgender people who may soon be able to seek medical care without being deemed “mentally disordered.”

In its letter to Japan, WPATH President Dr. Vin Tangpricha, an endocrinologist, said that eliminating sterilization is the most urgent requirement, adding that: “The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will be an important moment for the government of Japan to demonstrate to the world that it respects the rights of all people.”

WPATH is not alone in its conviction that Japanese law needs to change. Last year, Japan told the UN it would move to end discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government even passed its own law against LGBT discrimination. Japan’s health and justice ministries should also be taking swift action.  

Iraq: Displaced People Unable to Return Home Years After Battles

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 14, 2019
  (Erbil, June 14, 2019) – An estimated 1.8 million people remain displaced by the conflict between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) two years after the heaviest fighting ended. A new Human Rights Watch web feature highlights the experiences of families who are struggling to find a safe home in post-ISIS Iraq.   “Iraqi authorities have put in place a system that has allowed communities, security forces, and government agencies to collectively punish families whose relatives were allegedly linked to ISIS,” said Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This system has put these families in a purgatory that prevents them from returning home, imprisons them in camps, and forces them to endure dire conditions that portend bleak futures for their children.”

 

US Should Focus on Rights Concerns in Tariffs Deal with Mexico

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Migrant families cross the Rio Grande to get across the border into the United States, to turn themselves in to authorities and ask for asylum, next to the Paso del Norte international bridge, near El Paso, Texas, Friday, May 31, 2019. © 2019 Christian Torrez/AP Photo

The US Congress should urgently turn its attention to the impact of a new agreement between Mexico and the Trump administration aimed at reducing the number of migrants coming to the United States’ southern border.

The deal, struck after President Trump threatened last month to levy a five percent tariff on Mexico, raises serious human rights concerns.

The two main pillars of the deal are Mexico’s commitment to take “unprecedented” enforcement steps to curb immigration to the US – particularly along its southern border – and the immediate expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), that returns Central American asylum seekers to Mexico while their application to live in the US is considered. Both elements endanger the rights of asylum seekers.

I was in Juarez, Mexico last month assessing the impacts of the returns program – which swept up over 11,000 people, raising serious concerns about their access to fair process in the US. On Tuesday, the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee in the US House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2020 spending bill that would prohibit using US government funds to return asylum-seekers to Mexico. This amendment should be incorporated into the final spending bill to stop the harms of the returns program.

Congress also needs to investigate whether the Trump deal with Mexico is resulting in the expulsion of refugees from Mexico on the US’ behalf. As part of the deal, Mexico will deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border, a move my colleague Daniel Wilkinson recently called a “recipe for abuse” given Mexico’s record with militarized policing.

Asylum seekers stopped in Mexico, including children, may not have meaningful access to asylum. Human Rights Watch found in 2016 that Central American children in need of protection in the country faced major obstacles, including lack of proper screening and legal assistance, delays, and detention. Mexico has taken important steps to increase its capacity to handle asylum claims, but its refugee agency still lacks the resources to handle more than a fraction of the people with protection claims who cross its borders.

The US-Mexico deal removes people seeking asylum from US soil or makes sure they never reach it, but it does not absolve Congress of its responsibility to address the human rights consequences of the deal.

Something to Celebrate in Russia

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Russian journalist Ivan Golunov (center), who was freed from house arrest after police abruptly dropped drug charges against him, meets with the media and supporters outside the office of criminal investigations in Moscow, June 11, 2019. The sign reads: “I am/We are Ivan Golunov.” 

© 2019 Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters Those of us who cover Russia aren’t spoilt by good news. This week, however, yielded not one but two amazing breakthroughs for critics of the government framed on drug charges.   On Monday, a court in Chechnya granted parole to Oyub Titiev of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights group. Titiev, who investigated grave abuses allegedly committed by local security forces, has been behind bars since his arrest on bogus drug possession charges in January 2018. Chechnya’s chief official, Ramzan Kadyrov, repeatedly called Titiev an enemy and made clear he wanted Memorial out of Chechnya. Titiev’s friends and colleagues feared parole would be denied, but now Titiev should be free in a week, when the ruling enters into force. If not for the massive domestic and international campaigns on his behalf, he likely would have spent years in prison, like others who were imprisoned in Chechnya on bogus drug charges.   On Tuesday, authorities dropped the case against Ivan Golunov, a prominent investigative reporter who had been arrested on May 6 in Moscow on charges of drug dealing that could bring a 20-year prison term. Golunov alleged that police planted the drugs and beat him. His arrest appeared aimed at silencing him, causing outrage among journalists and other free-speech advocates. For several days, people stood in line for hours awaiting their turn to hold non-stop, single-person pickets in front of the Interior Ministry.   This powerful mobilization coupled with a colossal media outcry yielded unprecedented results: Golunov was released; an investigation into police abuse against him is ongoing; and the head of the narcotics police was fired.   On Wednesday, Golunov’s supporters conducted an unsanctioned march in central Moscow, seeking justice in his case and for other victims of political prosecution. Police arbitrarily detained over 500 peaceful protesters.    Quite a few people in Russia and abroad contend that getting the authorities to release two people unjustly behind bars while repression rages doesn’t amount to real victories. But it does. Otherwise Golunov would be in jail, possibly for years, and Titiev would hardly have a chance for release next week. Even in repressive states we can make a difference and that’s something to celebrate.

Mexico City’s LGBT-Inclusive School Uniforms Policy

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Participants march during a Gay Pride Parade in Mexico City, June 27, 2015.

2015 Reuters/Edgard Garrido

Mexico City’s Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced on June 3 that children in Mexico City would be allowed to choose the uniform they wear to school. The policy applies to pre-schools, elementary schools, and secondary schools.

Sheinbaum called “the era in which girls had to wear a skirt and boys had to wear trousers a thing of the past.” She added: “Boys can wear a skirt if they want to and girls can wear trousers if they want.” She called the measure “very simple … but important.”

She is right.

Allowing students to choose their attire can help combat gender stereotypes. Among those who will likely benefit most from Mexico City’s new policy are gender-nonconforming children. They may include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth, whose gender expression does not always accord with rigid norms.

To communicate the new policy, Mexico City’s federal education authority issued a notice stating, “from now on, the use of skirt or trousers will be a free choice in the public and private basic education schools of Mexico City.”

Mexican authorities should extend the city’s policy to schools throughout the country.

School uniform policies have a deleterious impact on gender-nonconforming students in much of the world. Last month, I spoke with Nelson, a 25-year-old transgender man in El Salvador, who described how his school’s strict uniform policy had interfered with his education. “I had problems with the deputy director of my school,” he said. “I found trousers in the same color as the skirt [of the school uniform] but the deputy director did not want me to wear trousers.… I failed the fourth year because he always removed me from the classroom [when I wore trousers] and I wasn’t able to study.”

Human Rights Watch has documented similar challenges for LGBT youth, particularly transgender students, in Japan and the Philippines. In 2015, the Japanese Ministry of Education issued a directive that suggested teachers allow the students to wear the uniform of their choice – a policy that schools have finally started to implement.

Mexico City’s announcement was not without controversy. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador refused to comment on it, and Mexico’s education minister – who participated in the event at which the new policy was announced – later stated the decision was only directed at girls. However, the measure is clear that no restrictions are allowed.

Mexico City’s measure is important in ensuring gender nonconforming and LGBT students feel accepted, and it’s a simple one to implement. Other states and countries should follow suit.

UK’s Grenfell Tower Families Still Waiting For Justice

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Street art in Ladbroke Grove, West London, commemorating the victims of Grenfell Tower fire, December 2017.

© Benjamin Ward/Human Rights Watch

On June 14, 2017, west London awoke to a disaster. The acrid smell of smoke and incessant sirens signalled something was deeply wrong.

The fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington took 72 lives and left 70 more injured, hundreds homeless, and a community in shock and grief.

Two years later, the sense that something is wrong remains.

Yes, a public inquiry has been set up to look at what led to the deaths and what lessons can be drawn for the future. Yet the inquiry has been beset by delays and a report setting out the conclusion of its first stage has yet to be published.

Yes, the government has agreed to fund the removal of the kind of flammable cladding that covered Grenfell Tower from other tall buildings. But as Grenfell United, a community group, highlighted this week, two years on some hi-rise buildings still have such cladding or lack basic safety measures like sprinklers.

Yes, the government commissioned a fire safety report in 2017 that called for systemic change to fire regulations that were not “fit for purpose”. Yet more than a year after its publication, the government is still “consulting” on possible changes.

Yes, the Metropolitan Police is pursuing criminal investigations into possible manslaughter charges relating to the fire, and have interviewed 13 possible suspects. But no individual or organisation has yet faced a single criminal charge for what took place and police say it may be another two years before any charges are brought.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a promise to the survivors and the families of the victims that she would not let them down.

More importantly, the UK government has a duty under human rights law to protect people’s lives, including by making sure housing is safe to live in. Earlier this year, a national human rights institution concluded that the authorities’ failure to make Grenfell safe before the fire fell foul of that duty.

Two years on it is evident that those who died and those who survived that dreadful night still lack the thing they need the most: justice. 

Justice Gap For Kosovo 20 Years On

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, June 13, 2019

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A grave in Kosovo: “Unidentified.”

© FRED ABRAHAMS ⁄ HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

This week marks 20 years since the end of the Kosovo war. What began as systematic Serbian state oppression led to attacks by an ethnic Albanian armed group, a vicious government response, and 78 days of NATO airstrikes.

Civilians paid a hefty price. In Kosovo, Serbian and Yugoslav forces rampaged through villages burning homes, executing men and raping women and girls. Roughly 850,000 Kosovo Albanians were forcibly expelled.

Human Rights Watch’s main report on the conflict found “a coordinated and systematic campaign to terrorize, kill, and expel the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo that was organized by the highest levels of the Serbian and Yugoslav governments.” Serbian authorities tried to hide those crimes by moving hundreds of bodies to Serbia and dumping them in mass graves.

These were not the conflict’s only crimes. The ethnic Albanian insurgency known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) also abducted and murdered Serbian, Roma and Albanian civilians during and after the war. NATO forces used cluster munitions and its attacks killed some 500 civilians, some in legally dubious strikes.

Today, 1,653 people remain missing from the war, 1,092 Albanians and 562 Roma and Serbs.

Justice is mostly missing, too. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for his role in Kosovo, but he died during trial. Six of his senior co-conspirators were convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo, three of whom were granted early release after serving two-thirds of their sentences. One of the six, police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic, whom the ICTY found guilty of coordinating the body-removal operation, is eligible for early release this month. 34 NGOs from Serbia and Kosovo have opposed that until he shares information about the location of missing persons.

Other senior security officials credibly implicated in war crimes have eluded justice. A Belgrade-based war crimes court has focused on low- and mid-level perpetrators, and ignored many of the most serious Kosovo crimes, including the removal of bodies. The European Union, which Serbia aspires to join, has not made war-time accountability a top demand.

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the KLA accused of killings and body transfers to Albania remain  at-large, some in high government posts. A new court in The Hague offers hope for justice, and Serbia’s protection of war criminals does not justify attempts to undermine that chance.

Some people advocate a turn of the shoulder: let wounds heal with time. The EU has focused on negotiations to normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations. As important as that dialogue is, justice is a critical medicine for lasting health.

Why Did the Presidency Assign Judge Aitala to the Afghanistan PTC?

Opinio Juris - Thursday, June 13, 2019
As I have discussed before, in March 2018 the Presidency curiously dissolved the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC III) that had been dealing with the Afghanistan situation for six months and assigned that situation to a new PTC. Judge Mindua remained part of the new PTC (PTC II), while Judges Chung and Pangalangan were replaced by two newly-elected judges, Akane and Aitala....

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