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China: ‘Belt and Road’ Projects Should Respect Rights

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, April 21, 2019

Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman speaks during the inaugural Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing Sunday, May 14, 2017.

© 2019 Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP

(New York) – The Chinese government should ensure the projects it finances or engages in under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) respect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 25-27, 2019, President Xi Jinping will host heads of state and international organization leaders at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The BRI, announced in 2013, is China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment program stretching across some 70 countries, linking China to the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe via land and maritime networks.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government should set out requirements to enable meaningful consultation with groups of people potentially affected by proposed projects. It should also ensure that affected communities can openly express their views without fear of reprisal. Other governments, the United Nations, and financial institutions should press Beijing to adopt such protections.

“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Criticisms of some Belt and Road projects – such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation – suggest a superficial commitment.”

In recent years, some BRI projects have not conducted or disclosed adequate environmental and social impact assessments, or sufficiently consulted local communities that would be affected by the projects during planning and construction processes, prompting widespread protests.

Such practices are inconsistent with basic obligations of states under international human rights law concerning a healthy and sustainable environment. Some BRI projects have also drawn criticism for facilitating corruption, nontransparent loan agreements, and noncompetitive contracts that require the use of Chinese companies. Amid inflated project costs, several BRI recipient countries, such as Djibouti, Pakistan, and the Maldives, are at high risk of debt distress, potentially diverting limited government resources away from essential services to debt servicing.

The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, two of China’s policy banks and the biggest financiers of the BRI, have not publicly articulated mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability, or respect for human rights in financing BRI projects. A policy document issued in 2017 by the Office of the Leading Group for the Belt and Road Initiative, the government body that oversees implementation of the BRI, made no mention of human rights.

In Pakistan, the Chinese government has made developing the port city of Gwadar the centerpiece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship BRI project totaling US$62 billion. In 2015, as part of the project, the Chinese government offered a loan of $130 million to build the East Bay Expressway, which will link the port to a major national highway. Since the Chinese state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) started construction on the highway in October 2018, local fishermen in Gwadar have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and consultations, and potential impacts on their livelihoods. They have held news conferences, strikes, and marches to protest the highway, which they allege would block their access to the sea and deprive them of their ancestral source of livelihood without offering any alternatives. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan assured “inclusive development” but construction has proceeded without any of the fishermen’s demands being addressed.

In Myanmar, the Chinese government has ramped-up pressure on Myanmar authorities over the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State. The Myanmar government suspended the construction of the dam in 2011, after nationwide protests. Critics say the mega-dam would cause large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods, wide-scale environmental damage, and destruction of cultural heritage sites significant to the ethnic Kachin people. The project has been criticized for having little transparency. In February, a Chinese government statement contending that most Kachin people support the revival of the dam project drew thousands of people to march in opposition to the claim. The Myanmar government briefly detained a protest leader.

In Sri Lanka, the CCCC in January completed the first phase of construction of Colombo Port City, a financial district in the country’s capital. The $1.4 billion development project has drawn continuing protests over environmental harm. Many residents fear that land reclamation required for the project would lead to coastal erosion and reduce fish populations, threatening the lagoon ecosystem and fishermen’s livelihoods. As with many other BRI projects, the agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the CCCC has not been made public.

The Chinese government and state-owned banks have responded to community opposition to planned Belt and Road projects in some cases. In March, Chinese authorities dropped a plan to blast rocky outcrops and islets in the upper reaches of the Mekong River to allow smooth passage of large cargo vessels, after strong protests by residents and environmental groups from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Also in March, the state-owned Bank of China said it would evaluate the funding commitment to the Batang Toru hydropower plant in Indonesia, asserting that the bank was committed to supporting environmental protection and corporate social responsibility. Critics fear the dam would cause environmental degradation and threaten the critically endangered orangutan.

“People and governments in some ‘Belt and Road’ countries are pushing back against threats to their physical, financial, and environmental well-being,” Wang said. “Chinese authorities should respond by committing to meaningful community consultation, project transparency, respect for peaceful protest, and addressing community concerns.”

Events and Announcements: April 20, 2019

Opinio Juris - Saturday, April 20, 2019
Call for Papers The Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University, New Delhi (India) is organizing a two-day international conference on South Asia in the Era of International Courts and Tribunals on 28-29 February 2020. The conference theme invites engagement with a range of issues broadly falling within the following three sub-themes: (1) The Composition and Competence of International Courts...

Egypt: Constitutional Amendments Entrench Repression

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, April 20, 2019

People walk past a banner supporting proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution with a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Images/Amr Nabil

(Beirut) – The Egyptian government should withdraw proposed constitutional amendments that will consolidate authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. The amendments will undermine the Egyptian judiciary’s dwindling independence and expand the military’s power to intervene in political life.

On April 16, 2019, Parliament finalized and approved the amendments, which a pro-government bloc proposed in early February. On April 17, the National Election Authority said a public referendum was set for April 19-22. The official draft amendments were only published in the official Gazette on April 18. The vote takes place amid ongoing mass arrests and a relentless crackdown on fundamental freedoms, including currently targeting those calling for boycotting or rejecting the amendments. Given the ongoing repression, and that political opposition in Egypt has dwindled to a nominal presence, a free and fair vote will be impossible.

“These amendments aim to smother Egyptians’ aspirations to live in dignity and under the rule of law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately halt efforts to pass these amendments by threatening, disappearing, and persecuting peaceful critics and dissidents.”

The 596-seat Parliament, which is dominated by members loyal to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and which routinely rubber-stamps government decisions, passed the amendments by a vote of 531 to 22. During Parliament’s “societal dialogue” sessions, few critics were allowed be take part in the discussions about the amendments.

“The amendments are a flagrant assault on the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Egypt. If adopted, they will effectively place the military above the law and the Constitution and cement the executive’s subordination of judicial and prosecutorial authorities,” said Said Benarbia, ICJ’s MENA Director.

The initial amendments would have allowed al-Sisi to run for two more six-year terms, after his current second term. The final amendments will permit him to run for one additional term and also extends his current term from four to six years, a move that attracted criticism inside Egypt. The amendments are particularly troubling given the widespread suppression of fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, association, and assembly and the right to political participation, all of which are essential to a free and fair public vote.

A coalition of 10 secular and leftist political parties called for rejecting the amendments. Local news reports say that the public prosecutor is investigating an opposition political figure, Hamdeen Sabbahy, for “instigating chaos” and insulting the state because of his opposition to the amendments. The authorities have also started aggressive smear campaigns against several activists and award-winning actors, and are exploring the potential prosecution of them following their participation in public advocacy efforts about Egypt’s human rights situation in Washington, DC and European capital cities in March.

In February and March alone, authorities arrested or prosecuted over 160 dissidents or perceived dissidents, according to Egyptian rights lawyers who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Authorities also briefly arrested another opposition figure, Mamdouh Hamza, a businessman, on February 16, accusing him of “publishing false news” and citing critical posts on his Twitter account. They released him on bail a few hours later. Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper said that other opposition figures have received telephoned “threats.”

On April 10, the authorities blocked an independent campaign website, “Batel,” which, in the context of the referendum, could be translated as “void.” Egyptians living abroad started the campaign, inviting Egyptians to register their “No” votes online. Access to the site was blocked in Egypt only hours after its launch, but the campaign still managed to amass tens of thousands of “No” voters in a few days.

The authorities blocked seven other alternative websites that the campaign made to circumvent the efforts to block access in Egypt. In their efforts to block access to the campaign, the authorities have blocked about 34,000 websites, according to an internet-monitoring website. Since mid-2017, the authorities have blocked access to hundreds of websites including most of the independent news websites and some for human rights organizations.

The independent news website Mada Masr reported on February 10 that security authorities instructed mainstream media in Egypt not to report on the amendments, and in particular not to give critics any coverage. Mada Masr also reported that, at least since December 2018, meetings between staff from al-Sisi’s office and intelligence officials have been held at the General Intelligence Agency “on a nearly daily basis,” coordinated by al-Sisi’s son Mahmoud, a senior intelligence officer, to push the amendments.

A few days after parliamentarians proposed the amendments, supportive placards, signs, and billboards were erected across the country. On April 16, Mada Masr, quoting witnesses in East Cairo, reported that security authorities had pressed business owners to post the signs. The government denied imposing fines on those who refused, but the authorities refused to permit opposition protests on March 27, citing “security threats.”

The al-Mashhad website also published a leaked memo from judges of the State Council, the body that contains the Supreme Administrative Court, to the Parliament, which said that the amendments “demolish judicial independence.” The State Council’s deputy chief justice, Judge Samir Yousef, later confirmed that he drafted the memo.

In July 2013, then-defense minister al-Sisi led the forcible removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsy. Al-Sisi was officially elected president in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, after his government arrested or intimidated all of the other potential candidates. Al-Sisi has presided over a government that has committed widespread and systematic human rights violations, including mass killings of protesters, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings of detainees, and torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Some of these crimes most likely constitute crimes against humanity.

The nationwide crackdown first targeted al-Sisi’s Islamist opponents but quickly expanded to include political dissidents, human rights lawyers and defenders, journalists, artists, gay men, lesbians, transsexuals, and virtually anyone expressing the mildest critical views. Government security forces, including the army, violate human rights with almost total impunity.

Since April 2017, the government has imposed a state of emergency, which has been used to justify undermining judicial independence, and used abusive counterterrorism and media laws to suppress fundamental freedoms.

President al-Sisi has apparently long opposed many of the human rights guarantees in the current constitution, saying in September 2015 that “the Constitution was written with good intentions. But countries cannot be built with good intentions.” The parliament speaker, Ali Abd al-Aal, said that a new constitution should be drafted in 5 or 10 years. Critics say this will happen when al-Sisi nears the end of his third and final term.

In an April 17 news conference, Judge Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of the National Elections Authority, called on Egyptians to vote and said that amending the constitution was justified because “it has to fit the [society’s] situation.”

“Egypt’s autocracy is shifting into overdrive to re-establish the ‘President-for-Life’ model, beloved by dictators in the region and despised by their citizens,” Page said. “But it’s a model that recent experience in Egypt and neighboring countries has demonstrated is not built to last.”


Amendments That Undermine Judicial and Prosecutorial Independence

Amended articles 185, 189, and 193 grant the president broad and unchecked supervisory powers over the judiciary and the public prosecutor, in contravention of fundamental rule of law principles concerning the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.

Under amended article 185, the president will have the authority to appoint the heads of judicial bodies and authorities fromamong seven of the most senior deputies nominated by judicial councils. The president ­ or, in his absence, the justice minister ­ will be the head of the Supreme Council for Judicial Bodies and Authorities, which will supervise the judiciary and whose independence is vital to preserve judicial independence.

The amendments give the Supreme Council the authority to determine the conditions of appointment, promotion, and discipline for members of judicial bodies, as well as a consultative role on draft laws organizing the affairs of judicial bodies and authorities. The president will have veto power in the Supreme Council.

Under amended article 193, paragraph 3, the president will have the authority to select the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) from the five most senior court vice-presidents and to select the vice-president from two nominees nominated by the court chief justice and the court’s General Assembly, the de-facto court syndicate.

The president will also have the authority to appoint the head and members of the Commissioners’ Authority, who will be nominated by the chief justice after consulting with the court’s General Assembly. The Commissioner’s Authority consists of judges who provide opinions to the chief justice on constitutional and legal issues in cases before the court.

The amendment to article 189, paragraph 2, will also grant the president the power to appoint the public prosecutor from among three nominees by the “Supreme Judicial Council” (another body that lacks independence and supervises the judiciary). The nominees should be from the Court of Cassation deputy chief justices, the appeal courts chief justices, and the assistant prosecutors general.

In recent years, al-Sisi approved several laws that undermined judicial independence. Under Law No. 13 of 2017, the president gave himself the authority to choose the chief justice of the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appellate court, and the heads of the Supreme Judicial Council (the body whose powers will be almost completely replaced by the new Supreme Council for Judicial Bodies and Authorities), the State Council which contains the country’s Supreme Administrative Court, the Administrative Prosecution Authority and the State Lawsuits Authority. Law No. 13 of 2017 is under constitutional challenge before the Supreme Constitutional Court.

In the past several years, tens of thousands of political and other perceived dissidents have faced unfair trials in both civilian and military courts, after prolonged arbitrary pretrial detention, resulting in lengthy prison sentences and the death penalty. Even after they serve their sentences, some of those convicted must report to their local police station every day for up to 12 hours, for up to five years, effectively forcing them to spend their nights in their local police station.

The amendments to articles 185 and 193, together with Law No. 13 of 2017, will grant the president ­ and thereby the executive ­ almost complete control over the judiciary and enable its further use to stifle peaceful dissent.

International Standards on Independence of the Judiciary

The proposed constitutional amendments do not comply with the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, which is guaranteed by article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), articles 7 and 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), and articles 12 and 13 of the Arab Charter of Human Rights (the Arab Charter). Egypt has ratified all of these covenants, which all require the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and numerous courts and international and regional guidelines have emphasized that the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government and the independence of the judiciary are mutually interdependent principles. Independence requires procedures for the selection, appointment, promotion, transfer, and discipline of judges to be transparent and free from overall executive control.

International standards, monitors, and experts ­ including the Human Rights Committee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the African Union (AU) Fair Trial Guidelines ­ all underline the importance of the establishment of an independent body for the selection and supervision of judges, which should be constituted of at least a majority of judges elected by their peers and free from executive interference. The UN Basic Principles (principle 10) and the AU Fair Trial Principles (principle A(4)(h), (i) and (k)) indicate that the process for the appointments to judicial office should also be transparent and subject to strict selection criteria based on merit.

In Egypt’s Judiciary: A Tool of Repression, the International Commission of Jurists previously reported on the current framework governing the judiciary and prosecutors in Egypt and its non-compliance with the right to a fair trial under international law. The report explained that the Supreme Judicial Council consists of judges determined by seniority rather than election by their peers, and has no autonomous decision-making power over judicial careers, including over the appointment of some judges, or over assignment and disciplining judges.

The amendments will give the powers under Law No. 13 of 2017 constitutional status; grant the president the authority to appoint judges to lead all judicial bodies including the Supreme Constitutional Court without any judicial involvement other than SJC’s nomination of a pool of judges who are selected by seniority rather than merit; and to determine the conditions under which all judges are appointed and promoted and the organization of judicial bodies and authorities. This will also give the president potential power to influence the outcome of cases reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court through determining the composition of the body of judges, known as the Commissioner’s Authority, that initially reviews the cases and advises members of the SCC deciding on them.

International Standards on Independence of the Public Prosecutor

The right to a fair trial also requires prosecutors to act independently and without undue influence from the executive. Article 2 of the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors (UN Guidelines) makes clear that states must ensure selection criteria for prosecutors that “embody safeguards against appointments based on partiality or prejudice, excluding any discrimination against a person on the grounds of … political or other opinion.” Article 4 of the UN Guidelines, as well Principle “F” of the AU Fair Trial Principles, affirms that prosecutors must be able to perform their professional functions without intimidation or improper interference.

The public prosecutor is currently selected by the Supreme Judicial Council and appointed by presidential decree. Several human rights reports have shown that Egypt’s public prosecutors are subject to interference by the executive authority, becoming tools of oppression and failing to investigate human rights abuses. The additional power the constitutional amendments grant the president to appoint the public prosecutor will facilitate appointments based on political or other improper objectives and, in turn, most likely risk unduly influencing decisions by the prosecutor and subordinates acting upon their authority, including by refraining from investigating and prosecuting cases involving crimes by members of the executive, the president, or other government officials or associated private citizens.

Amendments That Expand Military Interference in Civilian Affairs

Amended constitutional articles 200, 204, and 234 will significantly expand the military’s authority, in violation of rule of law principles and the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.

Expanded Military Interference in Civilian Affairs

Under amended article 200, paragraph 1, the military will have the duty to “protect the constitution and democracy, and safeguard the basic components of the State and its civilian nature, and the people’s gains, and individual rights and freedoms,” in addition to its current mandate to “protect the country, and preserve its security and territories.” Under amended article 234, the currently temporary role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) in approving the appointment of the defense minister, who is also commander of the armed forces, will also be made permanent.

The amendments appear designed to enable the military to intervene in civilian governance and public and political spheres that are the responsibility of law enforcement agencies. In the context of the 2013 military coup, which the AU deemed unconstitutional, temporarily suspending Egypt from AU activities, the amendments also appear designed to justify any future removals of the head of state by the military, cancellations of the results of free elections, and interruptions of the democratic process. The amendments could also further shield members of the military from accountability for human rights violations and other crimes, including using excessive force, dispersing peaceful protests, and other violations committed in the name of maintaining the constitution and democracy.

It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that the military should be subject to civilian oversight and should not have any direct or indirect interference in governance. The UN Human Rights Council, in reaffirming that civilian authority over the military is a key component of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, has called on states to ensure that “the military remains accountable to relevant national civilian authorities.” The UN Human Rights Committee has persistently highlighted the need to subject armed forces to effective control by civilian authorities.

Egypt’s military already has expansive powers to determine policies and intervene in civilian affairs without civilian oversight. The constitution does not provide for civilian oversight over the military, and the amendments will accordingly place the military in a position in which it has significant authority to act without restriction and, most likely, with impunity. The military also has a history of exercising its authority arbitrarily and outside the framework of the rule of law, with blanket impunity for violence against women, killing hundreds of protestors, and demolishing homes in the name of fighting terrorism. Such practices clearly conflict with Egypt’s obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute gross human rights violations and other serious crimes.

Unprecedented Increase in Trials of Civilians in Military Courts

The military’s increased power will be coupled with an unprecedented expansion of the jurisdiction of military tribunals. Under amended article 204, paragraph 2, military tribunals will have jurisdiction over crimes committed by civilians “that represent an assault” against military facilities, equipment, weapons, documents, and public funds, among many other things, removing the pre-amendment requirement that such assaults be “direct.”

The range of facilities subject to such assaults will also be expanded to include those that have “the same nature or the facilities that the military protects,” instead of facilities that fall “under their authority” or “stipulated military or border zones.” The amendment will, in effect, make the expansion of the military court’s jurisdiction over public universities and other public places in Law 136/2014 on Protecting and Safeguarding Public and Vital Facilities constitutional.

This amendment will incorporate into the Constitution Decree No. 136 of 2014, which al-Sisi issued in October 2014, to expand the jurisdiction of military courts to include any crimes committed on any public property or vital facility. Since that decree was issued, over 15,500 civilians, including scores of children, have been referred for military prosecution. This decree has been interpreted broadly, providing the military prosecutor the authority to decide whether a particular crime falls within the military’s jurisdiction.

Under international law and standards ­ including article 14 of the ICCPR, Principle “L” of the AU Fair Trial Principles, principles 5 and 8 of the Draft principles governing the administration of justice through military tribunals (Decaux Principles), and principle 29 of the Updated set of Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity ­ the jurisdiction of military courts should generally be limited to military offenses, in particular disciplinary offenses, by military personnel. Military courts should not have jurisdiction over civilians or over gross human rights violations, including but not limited to torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances.

Military courts are not independent judicial authorities for the purposes of a fair trial under article 14 of the ICCPR. In its Resolution on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights stated that “military courts should respect the norms of a fair trial” and that “[t]hey should in no case try civilians.” The Human Rights Committee stated that trying civilians in military courts is only permissible in exceptional circumstances and has called on states to prohibit the use of military courts to try civilians. The special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have also emphasized that military courts are incompetent to try civilians.

Military trials in Egypt are inherently unjust. Military judges are serving military officers appointed by defense minister, are not required to have the same legal training as civilian judges, and are subject to the military chain of command including in the course of their judicial functions; as such, they are not independent. In the conduct of trial proceedings, the accused are not afforded adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and are also in both law and practice not guaranteed the right to communicate confidentially with counsel of their choice. Military trials are closed to the public, and the use of “confessions” or other information obtained through torture or other ill-treatment as evidence is routine.

Who Owns the .Amazon? (And How Many Kindles Would You Pay For It?)

Opinio Juris - Friday, April 19, 2019
The Amazon is a 7,000,000 km2 ecosystem, containing the world’s largest rainforest, boasting some 390 billion trees, 2.5 million species of insects and over 2,000 species of birds and mammals, spanning the territories of eight states (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela). It is also the name of a company worth 810 billion dollars. Back in 2012,...

Vedanta v. Lungowe Symposium: Beyond Vedanta–Reconciling Tort Law with International Human Rights Norms

Opinio Juris - Friday, April 19, 2019
[Doug Cassel is an Emeritus Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.] The unanimous jurisdictional ruling of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Vedanta Resources PLC and another v Lungowe and others, issued April 10, is the most important judicial decision in the field of business and human rights since the jurisdictional ruling of the United States Supreme Court...

Algeria: Police Renew Crackdown on Mass Protests

Human Rights Watch - Friday, April 19, 2019

Protesters confront police officers during a demonstration against the country's leadership, in Algiers, Friday, April 12, 2019.

© 2019 AP Images/Mosa'ab Elshamy

(Beirut, April 19, 2019) ­ Algerian authorities have resumed forcibly dispersing peaceful demonstrations and arbitrarily detaining protesters in the capital, Algiers, Human Rights Watch said today. The government crackdown is an apparent attempt to curb the massive pro-democracy marches that have taken place weekly since February 2019 and forced the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on April 2.

Algerian authorities should rescind the 2001 decree banning all demonstrations in Algiers and allow people to exercise their right to peaceful assembly anywhere in Algeria, Human Rights Watch said.

“Algerians have continued to assert their right to peaceful assembly in recent weeks despite growing police efforts to crack down on them,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Protesters report being arrested, strip searched, handled roughly, and detained for hours.”

The protest movement first formed to oppose a presidential run by the ailing Bouteflika for a fifth five-year term in elections originally scheduled for April. On April 10, the Algerian parliament confirmed upper house speaker Abdelkader Ben Salah as interim president for 90 days. Ben Salah announced that a new presidential election would be held on July 4.

Security forces have responded inconsistently to the protests. On February 22 and on subsequent days, the security forces dispersed street rallies and arbitrarily arrested dozens of protesters, detaining some for hours, then releasing them without charge. Then in March, security forces allowed huge marches in the capital each Friday, with only minimal interference.

During April, security forces forcibly blocked smaller sit-ins and protests held on other days of the week. Three activists told Human Rights Watch that security forces on April 6, a Saturday, dispersed a small gathering of veterinarians in downtown Algiers who were denouncing conditions for granting public funds to animal shelters.

Abbane Meziane, a journalist with the daily Al Watan, told Human Rights Watch that he saw the security forces pushing into the gathering and chasing protesters from the steps of the post office. The police immediately arrested those who resisted and forced them into police vans. When police ordered Meziane to leave, he refused, saying he was a journalist doing his job. They arrested him together with eight protesters and took them to the Cavaignac police station, holding them for hours.

On April 9, police used water cannons to disperse a big student demonstration at la Grande Poste, according to media reports.

On April 13, police stopped several activists as they attempted to reach a sit-in planned for 5 p.m. in the plaza in front of la Grande Poste. Djalal Mokrani, an activist from Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (Youth Action Rally RAJ), a human rights and cultural association, said that he intended to join the planned sit-in and that it had been planned to prevent security forces from closing down space for peaceful protests.

“I was walking through the street leading to the plaza when a commander who recognized me ordered the police to arrest me,” he said. “Around 15 officers surrounded me, shoved me to the ground, and beat my legs. Then they forced me into a police van while insulting me and kicking me.”

He said that the police forced him into a van along with nine other people, confiscated their phones, and transported them to the Baraki police station, 20 kilometers from Algiers. The police kept them there from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., then released them.

Amal (who asked not to disclose her last name), 27, a RAJ activist, was among those arrested in that group. She said police in uniform arrested her together with 9 other activists from RAJ and the Democratic and Social Movement (Mouvement Démocratique et Social, MDS), a political party. She said that at 9 p.m., the police told the women to enter a room, one by one, where a woman who said she was a police officer said she would conduct a body search.

“She asked me to strip completely,” she said. “She said that if I don’t take off all my clothes, including my underwear, I would not get released that night. I was shocked but didn’t want to resist too much, as I was afraid of prison. When I was naked, she touched my body in a rough way, including my breasts and intimate parts.”

She said the other women told her that they were also told to undress and be searched. Another activist, Hania Chaâbane, from the MDS, released a video on her Facebook account on April 15, in which she says that at Baraki station, a police woman had her strip to her underpants, then inspected her body.

The security services of the Algiers governorate stated that the body search was a routine check for any object that could be used to inflict harm on oneself or others. However, both Chaâbane and Amal said that police searched all of the women, but none of the men. Mokrani confirmed that neither he nor the other five men were strip-searched.

Abdelghani Badi, a lawyer who defended many male and female protesters arbitrarily arrested by the police during the last wave of demonstrations, said that the police conduct strip searches usually only for certain types of crimes such as drug or violent offenses.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Nelson Mandela Rules) provides that “Searches shall not be used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy.” The alleged mistreatment of the women detainees, including unjustifiable touching of their bodies, could amount to a form of sexual assault prohibited under international law.

At the most recent Friday demonstration, on April 12, numerous demonstrators gathered for much of the day on Didouche Mourad, one of the main avenues in downtown Algiers, and on the avenues leading to La Grande Poste. At about 5 p.m., security forces started using teargas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators on Didouche Mourad.

Abdelwahab Farsaoui, president of RAJ, said that he was in the middle of the demonstration on the avenue, where thousands of people were chanting anti-government slogans. He said he heard explosions that he identified as coming from teargas canisters and started inhaling teargas. From where he was standing, Farsaoui said he observed no violence from the protesters at that time.

Videos filmed by Khaled Drarni that day show that police made extensive use of teargas on Didouche Mourad and also in the nearby Place Audin. Media reported clashes between protesters and the police later the same day.

DR Congo: Warlord’s Conviction Reveals Trial Flaws

Human Rights Watch - Friday, April 19, 2019

Marcel Habarugira (center) poses for a photograph in Ngululu, 80 kilometers northwest of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2012.

© 2012 Michele Sibiloni/AFP/GettyImages

(Goma) – A Congolese military court’s conviction of a warlord for the war crimes of rape and use of child soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo showed serious shortcomings in the country’s military justice system. The 15-year prison sentence for Marcel Habarugira provides a measure of justice for his victims and may serve as a check on other abusive commanders. However, the trial proceedings raised questions about witness protection, the defendant’s right to an appeal, and the government’s failure to pay reparations to victims.

On February 1, 2019, a military court in Goma, North Kivu province, found Habarugira, a former Congolese army soldier, guilty of three crimes committed while leading a faction of an armed group known as Nyatura (“hit hard” in Kinyarwanda). The group, which received arms and training from the Congolese army, carried out many of its worst attacks in 2012.

“The conviction of a warlord for war crimes is a rare event in Congo, and the vast majority of abusive military commanders remain at large,” said Timo Mueller, Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “However, the trial of Habarugira for rape and use of child soldiers uncovered serious flaws in Congo’s military justice system.”


Marcel Habarugira (left, in military uniform) stands trial in Bweremana village, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 15, 2018.

© 2018 Private

Human Rights Watch worked with a local rights defender to monitor the three-month trial and spoke to survivors of abuses, legal counsel, judicial officers, United Nations officials, and members of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations. Human Rights Watch secured a copy of the written judgment in mid-March. In 2013, Human Rights Watch interviewed victims, Nyatura fighters, and Congolese army personnel during three visits to Masisi, North Kivu.

Lack of protection for victims and witnesses undercut the prosecution’s case, Human Rights Watch said. Military justice officials interviewed over 100 victims and witnesses who traveled unobtrusively from villages across North Kivu. Yet many who wanted to testify were unable to travel due to obstruction, threats, and intimidation by Habarugira’s fighters and ethnic Hutu youth loyal to the group.

Victims from Katoyi and Ngungu told Human Rights Watch in 2015 that Habarugira’s fighters told them they would be killed if they went to testify against him. A year later, Congolese intelligence agents and local Hutu youth in Ngungu beat and detained for several hours a local human rights activist who had facilitated the participation of victims in the trial proceedings. In 2018, groups of Hutu youth blocked the roads to stop victims from Katoyi who attempted to make the trip.

Only seven victims participated in the trial. Notably, no witnesses came forward with respect to the charge of sexual slavery as a war crime, and Habarugira was acquitted on this charge.

“When I arrived in Bweremana to testify, I found Habarugira’s collaborators there,” said a man who had been forcibly recruited. “I recognized one of them. He approached me and said he would give me money if I didn’t testify against Habarugira. I accepted because, if I didn’t accept, how would I go back home? These are people who live with us. They’re the ones in charge where we live.”

A woman who had been raped by Habarugira’s fighters said that she knew many other victims who did not come to testify because they had heard that Habarugira’s fighters “were waiting for them along the road to do bad things to them.”

Four years after his arrest in 2014, Habarugira was tried by a Congolese military court that normally tries soldiers immediately for crimes committed during military operations. It does not allow for the right to appeal, contrary to the Congolese constitution and international fair trial standards.


The military operational court in Bweremana, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 15, 2018.

© 2018 Private

Seventeen victims and victims’ family members filed a civil suit alongside the criminal proceedings and were awarded US$5,000 each, to be paid for by Habarugira and the Congolese government due to Habarugira’s former position in the army. While Congolese courts have often awarded reparations to victims of sexual violence and other serious crimes, these reparations have rarely – if ever – been paid. The Congolese government should immediately pay the reparations ordered from the government in this case and develop an effective and sustainable reparations system for grave international crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

Habarugira’s conviction provides an opportunity for Congo’s new president, Felix Tshisekedi, and his administration to end the army’s practice of supporting armed groups such as the Nyatura by investigating and fairly prosecuting those responsible for serious crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

“To end the bloody cycles of violence and abuse in eastern Congo, armed group commanders responsible for abuses and their backers need to be held to account,” Mueller said. “But for justice to be meaningful, victims and witnesses need protection, and the fair trial rights of the accused must be respected.”

Marcel Habarugira

In the late 1990s, Habarugira was a low-ranking soldier in the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, RCD), a Rwandan-backed rebel group. He later joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, CNDP), another Rwandan-backed rebel group.

Habarugira eventually deserted the CNDP and joined the Congolese Patriotic Resistance, (Patriotes Résistants Congolais, or PARECO), a largely Hutu self-defense group. After a March 23, 2009 agreement in which CNDP and PARECO fighters were integrated into the Congolese army, he joined the army.

When many of the Hutu soldiers deserted in 2010 and 2011 in the face of their perceived marginalization by the army, Habarugira was among them. He formed his own fighting group, called Nyatura.

The Nyatura

While many of the fighting groups formed by the former Hutu soldiers have their own individual names or are named after their commanders, they are often referred to collectively as the Nyatura. The Nyatura have primarily attacked ethnic Tembo, Nyanga, and Hunde civilians over the years.

Habarugira’s troops were responsible for many of the worst attacks on civilians in southern North Kivu and parts of South Kivu provinces in 2012. Together with another Hutu group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Nyatura fighters summarily executed civilians, raped scores of women and girls, and burned down hundreds of homes in an apparent effort to “punish” civilians accused of supporting or collaborating with the “enemy.”

Many Nyatura groups have also collaborated with the army, including during military operations in 2012 and 2013 against the M23, a rebel group headed by Bosco Ntaganda, a former army commander now on trial in The Hague. According to the UN Group of Experts, the former chief of land forces, Gen. Gabriel Amisi (also known as “Tango Four”), who is currently the deputy chief of staff of the army, ordered army units in the area to work with the Nyatura, and sent them weapons in July 2012. Between September and November 2012, Habarugira, along with hundreds of Nyatura fighters went to a regroupment site in Mushaki, Masisi territory, where they were told they would be integrated into an army unit that would be called “Regiment Tango Four.”

Frustrated at the lack of progress, however, at least 600 of these fighters, including Habarugira, left the site about three months later. In an interview with Human Rights Watch in November 2013, Habarugira said he had received weapons – including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and bullets – from the army on November 12, 2012. Human Rights Watch saw an army document signed by a brigade general confirming this.

From early 2012 until the defeat of the M23 in early November 2013, Hutu militia groups operated in many parts of Masisi and Rutshuru territories where Congolese government and military authorities were largely absent. Nyatura leaders often took over administrative structures, displacing by force or sometimes coopting local government officials. Habarugira’s Nyatura joined forces with the Congolese army to fight the M23. They committed widespread abuses against civilians in the areas they controlled, including rape, torture, illegal detention, and looting.

Killings, Rapes, and Burning of Homes by Nyatura Fighters

Many of the worst attacks by Nyatura fighters took place between April and November 2012 during operations against the Raia Mutomboki, another armed group in the region, and their allies.

A 25-year-old ethnic Tembo woman from Ufamandu I groupement in southern Masisi told Human Rights Watch that she fled her village when Nyatura fighters attacked it on July 15, 2012. “When I was fleeing, I had to jump over the bodies of several people who had been killed – men, women, and children,” she said. “I don’t know how many because I myself was like a dead person.”

The woman took her children to hide into the surrounding forest with another group. “There were eight of us, all women,” she said. “Suddenly, we saw 10 fighters armed with machetes and knives coming toward us. They told us to lie down on the ground. We did, and then they started to rape us. Personally, I was raped by two fighters.”

Another Tembo woman from Ufamandu I in Masisi territory said that five Nyatura fighters raped her in July 2012:

I was asleep with my husband and children when the fighters broke into our home. When they saw me, they immediately started raping me, one after another. When the third one wanted to get on top of me, my husband came out of the corner where he was watching what was happening and shouted, ‘Enough is enough. This time, I’m not going to stand for any more of this!’ Without waiting, the fighters immediately shot him, and my husband died there on the floor in front of me. I was very afraid and started screaming at the top of my lungs. I was crying for my dear husband who was dead. A neighbor heard my screams and came to help, but he too was shot dead. I can’t return home today because we’ve learned that others who have gone back to our village to look for food were attacked again, some women raped, and others were killed.

On August 9, 2012, the Nyatura attacked Kipopo village, killing five civilians and burning dozens of homes. A 25-year-old pregnant mother of five said:

When they came, I was sleeping in my house. It was luck that saved me. My father said: “My daughter, you can save yourself, because I no longer have a way to save myself.” I ran out of the house and lay down in a sugarcane field. When [my father] left the house behind me, he ran into [the Nyatura]. They tied his hands and then locked him in the house and burned it. I heard my father screaming before he died.

During an attack near Buloto village, in Masisi territory, on November 3, 2012, Nyatura fighters killed four women and two children. A 20-year-old woman who witnessed the attack said that a group of Nyatura armed with guns, machetes, spears, and knives, and dressed in civilian trousers and military tops, surprised her, her older sister, and a friend when they were going to their farms. They tried to flee, but the Nyatura shot the woman’s sister and her friend. “When they fell on the ground, they [the Nyatura] came to them and they started cutting them with machetes so they would die,” she said. Overcome with fear, the woman who survived said she passed out and only came to when she heard young people coming to collect the bodies.

A 25-year-old woman and mother of four said that Nyatura attacked her village in Masisi territory on July 25, 2012:

The first thing [they did], was to shoot dead my husband. Then they asked me to choose between death and being raped. I chose to be raped because of my children. They all raped me, one after another. When they finished, they looted my house, they took everything. Then they burned the house and my husband was burned inside. We could not bury him.

Forced Recruitment of Children

Nyatura commanders have forcibly recruited scores of children into their ranks. During screenings of Nyatura members who surrendered in 2012 and 2013, UN child protection officials identified and separated 227 children who were former members of Nyatura armed groups.

A 2013 report by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) on child recruitment documented the new recruitment of 185 boys and 5 girls by the Nyatura between January 2012 and August 2013. The UN cited Habarugira as one of the main child recruiters. Thirty-four of the children were under 15, the youngest of them 11, and 33 more were 15. International law prohibits armed groups from recruiting and using children under 18, and deploying children under 15 is a war crime.

The Nyatura recruited children on the road to the market, in the market, on their way home from school, or while the children were farming or walking to their fields. The fighters forced children to participate in military training, and those accused of insubordination were badly beaten or held in underground prisons without food. While some of the children were used for domestic work, many were sent to the battlefield, including younger children. Six child fighters were killed as a result of clashes, witnesses reported, including two boys ages 12 and 13. Re-recruitment was also prevalent. Many children said Nyatura commanders forced them to rejoin the movement after they had been demobilized and reunited with their families.

Habarugira told Human Rights Watch in November 2013 that he had no children in his ranks but admitted that he received four child soldiers from a Nyatura commander, Kapopi, based near Luke in Masisi territory.

Nepal: End Attacks on Free Expression

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Journalists stage a protest against new laws that threaten to curb media freedoms, Kathmandu, Nepal, September 19, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo

(New York) – The authorities in Nepal should stop prosecuting journalists and social media users for peaceful reporting and online expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The government of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli should review and reform the Electronic Transactions Act, 2006, which has been repeatedly used to unlawfully muzzle speech, and ensure that any new or revised legislation upholds freedom of expression.

On April 15, 2019, the authorities detained Arjun Giri, editor of the online weekly Tandav News, and initiated a police investigation after he reported on alleged fraudulent business practices in the provincial city of Pokhara. The Kathmandu District Court ordered his release on April 18. Since the Oli government took office in February 2018, at least six journalists including Giri have been detained under the Electronic Transactions Act. At least 19 people are believed to have been arrested over six months up through January for their activities on “social networks.”

“Nepalis have fought hard for their democratic rights so it’s especially troubling that a government elected on a promise to uphold constitutional freedoms is intimidating and restricting Nepal’s vibrant public discourse,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The government should drop their investigation of Giri and stop harassing people for expressing their peaceful views.”

Section 47 of the Electronic Transactions Act prohibits electronic publication or display of material deemed illegal under existing laws, including vaguely defined material “which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behavior or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities.” It authorizes a sentence of up to five years in prison and a 100,000 Nepali rupee (US$900) fine.

Nepal’s political leaders should reject any efforts that undermine the rights of Nepalis to peacefully express their views. Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Freedom Forum, a Nepali rights group, recorded 98 violations of freedom of expression in 2018, compared with 66 in 2017, including threats and attacks by interest groups, and arbitrary arrests. Freedom Forum reported increased constraints on the media under the Oli government, including pressure to self-censor material critical of the government.

In addition, the Committee to Protect Journalists has warned that several provisions in Nepal's new criminal code, which came into effect on August 17, 2018, threaten media freedom. These include section 294, which prohibits disclosing private information without permission, including private information about public figures; section 295, which prohibits photographing a person outside of a public space without their consent; and section 306, which criminalizes satire that disrespects an individual.

Internet access is rapidly expanding in Nepal, reaching 60 percent of the population and adding 250 new users every hour. Social media reach is increasing, and an estimated 9.3 million Nepalis use Facebook. While the government has recognized the importance of digital technology for social and economic development, it is also cracking down on peaceful dissent and criticism.

On February 3, 2019, the news website newssewa.com was reportedly blocked by the authorities after it carried an item that was critical of a senior police officer. Two weeks later, a satirical song criticizing government corruption, “Lutnasake lut kanchha!” (Loot if you can my friend!), was removed from YouTube after protests by youth supporters of the ruling party. In August 2018, Homnath Sigdel, a local government official, was arrested for sharing a satirical image of the prime minister on Facebook.

In January 2019, the government proposed a new law imposing sweeping restrictions on what government employees can post online, making virtually any criticism of government policies unlawful. This followed an order from the Education Ministry in October 2018 prohibiting almost 500,000 staff nationwide, including teachers, from criticizing the government or political parties on social media.

The government has placed before parliament an Information Technology bill, which would impose penalties of up to five years in prison for “improper” posts on social networking sites if they are deemed to discredit individuals or to harm national security. The Nepali government should review and revise as necessary all proposed legislation that affects free expression.

Nepal, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is obligated to respect the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any medium. Any interference with the rights to privacy and free expression should be based on clear law, for a legitimate reason, and be proportionate – that is, the minimal interference necessary.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on the right to freedom of expression, stated that the “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “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.”

“Attacks on free expression have increased in Nepal over the past year, and proposed laws and policies provide further grounds for alarm,” Ganguly said. “Nepal’s political leaders should reject any efforts that undermine the rights of Nepalis to peacefully express their views.”

Without Justice in the Central African Republic, ‘Everything Else is Wrecked’

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Residents of Bossangoa, Central African Republic, lie on the ground of the compound of FOMAC, the regional peacekeeping Multinational Force of Central Africa, on December 5, 2013. The residents had fled from gunfire from anti-balaka forces. FOMAC troops tried to protect people from anti-balaka attacks in the town, which lies 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of the capital, Bangui.

“Our brothers, who have attacked us, must be brought to justice,” a victim of the violence in the Central African Republic told me last week in the country’s capital Bangui.

“Justice counteracts this culture of violence… It can change the behavior, not only of criminals, but also of the state,” a human rights defender also told us.

Other victims, activists, and lawyers echoed these sentiments during my week in Bangui, along with deeply held concerns that vague provisions on accountability in the recent peace agreement could be used to sideline the delivery of justice for atrocities committed in the country.

Victims’ calls for accountability have been constant since national consultations, called the Bangui Forum, were held in 2015. These calls have been bolstered by the creation of a new Special Criminal Court that is, at last, gaining long-sought momentum.

The Special Criminal Court is unique in the Central African Republic as it has, in the words of one local activist, “a national jurisdiction, with an international dimension.” It has a combination of international and domestic judges, prosecutors, and other staff, and operates with significant United Nations logistical and other kinds of support.

The law creating the court passed in 2015, but legal, administrative, and bureaucratic obstacles delayed its official launch of operations until October 2018.

But investigations have opened at last. And outreach about the court to the country’s largely non-literate population, including through radio, theater, and cartoons, is underway. “We can finally see the beginning of the work of the Special Criminal Court,” one human rights defender told us.

Conducting investigations and protecting witnesses where armed groups control some 80 percent of the country will be an uphill battle. The court also lacks secure funding and is operating with a weak and limited infrastructure.  

But the court is the country’s best chance to render accountability for the horrific crimes that have been committed, especially since 2013. The Central African Republic government and its international partners should firmly back the Special Criminal Court.

The victims and activists I spoke to told me the future of the country depends on justice. As one human rights defender explained: “Without justice, everything else is wrecked.”

Iran: Release Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activists

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Iranian women wearing hijab walk down a street in the capital Tehran on February 7, 2018. A spate of unprecedented protests against Iran's mandatory headscarves for women have been tiny in number, but have still reignited a debate that has preoccupied the Islamic republic since its founding.  

© 2018 ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities should release and quash the convictions of all activists who have been prosecuted for peacefully protesting the country’s compulsory hijab laws, Human Rights Watch said today. In the past week, the authorities arrested two activists – a mother and daughter – for protesting compulsory hijab laws.

Iranian officials have prosecuted at least half a dozen activists for their peaceful opposition to compulsory hijab laws. On March 2, 2019, a court in Tehran sentenced Vida Mohavedi – who sparked a movement when she took off her headscarf to protest compulsory hijab on December 27, 2017 – to a year in prison, her lawyer told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on April 14. On April 10, police arrested Yasaman Ariyani, a 23-year-old activist, at her home in Karaj, a source told Human Rights Watch. On April 11, the source said, authorities also arrested Ariyani’s mother, Monireh Arabshahi, when she went to the prosecutor’s office in Tehran to ask about her daughter.

“It is ridiculous that the Iranian authorities are arresting and prosecuting women for protesting against discriminatory dress code laws,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release these women’s rights activists and reform these outmoded and discriminatory laws.”

In December 2017 and January 2018, several women took their headscarves off while standing on electric utility boxes across the country to protest the law that requires that all women cover their hair. They became known as “the Girls of Revolution Street” and since then women have continued to protest the law across the country. The authorities have responded with arrests and prosecutions.

Ariyani has been active in the White Wednesday Campaign, a social media initiative by Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based activist who opposes compulsory hijab in Iran, and has been the target of state-sponsored smear campaigns. The source said that an official at the prosecutor’s office told Ariyani that her arrest stemmed from a protest on International Women’s Day, March 8, when she and her mother gave flowers to women wearing the chador, a full black robe, to encourage solidarity against compulsory hijab. She had earlier been arrested during a protest against Iran’s deteriorating economic situation on August 2, 2018 in Tehran and spent several months in prison.

Mohaved became the iconic woman of the “Girls of Revolution Street” after her first arrest over her December 27, 2017 protest. She was arrested again on October 29, 2018 after she stood without her headscarf holding balloons on Enghelab square in Tehran. Branch 1109 of Tehran’s [Islamic] Guidance Judicial Complex, which adjudicates crimes against public morals, sentenced Movahedi to a year in detention for encouraging corruption and prostitution during her October 2018 protest, her lawyer said on April 14.

Movahedi’s lawyer said that she was should have been released on under Ayatollah Khamenei’s amnesty decree for Eid al-Mab'ath, the anniversary of the day Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad began his prophecy and mainly celebrated by the Shi’a community. However, it appears that authorities are delaying her release.

Iranian authorities have prosecuted several other women who took off their headscarves to protest compulsory hijab. They have also targeted other activists, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer; her husband, Reza Khandan; and Farhad Meysami, another human rights defender for their peaceful efforts to oppose the compulsory hijab law.

On March 11, Khandan announced on his Facebook account that the court of first instance sentenced Sotoudeh to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for seven crimes. She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence she received in absentia in November 2016. If the court of appeals upholds the first instance sentence, Sotoudeh will serve her sentences concurrently, and would have to serve a total of 12 years in prison.

On January 22, the lawyer who represents Khandan and Meysami told IRNA news agency that Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court has sentenced them both to six years in prison on charges of assembly and collusion to act against national security and propaganda against the state, mainly for his peaceful activism against compulsory hijab laws.

Iran has a long history of imposing rules about what women can and cannot wear, in violation of their fundamental rights. In the 1930s, Reza Shah, then the ruler, prohibited women from wearing the hijab and police were ordered to forcibly remove women’s headscarves. Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, in the early 1980s Iranian authorities imposed a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear the hijab.

The compulsory dress code violates women’s rights to private life, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression, as well as to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience. It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified, guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy, and to freedom of religion. Several UN independent experts have criticized rules that require wearing religious dress in public. The late Asma Jahangir, a former UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, had said that the “use of coercive methods and sanctions applied to individuals who do not wish to wear religious dress or a specific symbol seen as sanctioned by religion” indicates “legislative and administrative actions which typically are incompatible with international human rights laws.”

Human Rights Watch opposes both policies of forced veiling and blanket bans on the wearing of religious dress as disproportionate and discriminatory interference with basic rights.

Human Rights Watch has opposed France’s blanket ban on full-face veils, as well as the ban on Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols in state schools, as a violation of human rights.

Human Rights Watch has also opposed laws and policies in other countries such as Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule, for forcing women to cover their hair, body, and sometimes even their face, because these restrictions deny them their right to personal autonomy and their rights to freedom of expression, belief, and religion.

“It is time for Iranian authorities to recognize that women in Iran and elsewhere are free to dress as they please,” Fakih said. “This includes deciding whether to wear a headscarf or not, no matter what those in power think.”

Vedanta v. Lungowe Symposium: Duty of Care of Parent Companies

Opinio Juris - Thursday, April 18, 2019
[Robert McCorquodale is a Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Nottingham UK, a barrister at Brick Court Chambers in London, and is the founder and principal of Inclusive Law, a consultancy which aims to bring together business, law and human rights. He was part of the legal team which represented the International Commission of Jurists...

Sudan: Heed Calls for Justice

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Omar al-Bashir greets his supporters at a rally in Khartoum, Sudan, on January 9, 2019. He was ousted on April 11.

© 2019 Mahmoud Hjaj/AP Photo

(Nairobi) – Sudan’s transitional military council should uphold their commitments to human rights and justice for past crimes by transferring Omar al-Bashir, the deposed president, and other Sudanese fugitives to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC states parties should step up pressure on the council to surrender al-Bashir and other war crimes suspects to the Hague court without any further delay.

On April 17, 2019, media reported that al-Bashir was being held in Kobar prison, in Khartoum. The transitional military council has said they would not hand al-Bashir over to face justice at the ICC, but could try him at home or a forthcoming civilian government could do so.

“The news of al-Bashir’s detention adds a new twist to unfolding events in Sudan and reinforces protesters’ calls for justice and accountability,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “ICC states parties should use all inroads in Khartoum to secure the surrender of ICC fugitives to the Hague court, and take steps to address decades of repression and abuse.”

Since the council assumed control, the authorities have released many detainees, including Darfuri students held without charge since protests in December 2018, and have largely refrained from violently dispersing protests. But the authorities have yet to make clear their plans to hold accountable key figures who oversaw serious crimes in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and elsewhere, or the killing of protesters.

Protests have continued, with calls for the immediate transfer of power to civilian rule, as well as for the arrest of all leaders of the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and former heads of Sudan’s national security agency, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Protesters have also called for justice for a range of human rights violations, including protester killings, atrocities in Darfur and Port Sudan, and other crimes by al-Bashir’s government.

Protests have taken place in major Sudanese cities since mid-December, both in response to Sudan’s declining economy and for an end to al-Bashir’s rule. Sudanese security forces cracked down violently on those protests, using excessive lethal force to kill scores of protesters and rounding up hundreds, possibly thousands, for arrest and detention.

Sudanese monitors on the ground estimate that more than 100 protesters have been killed, including many since April 6, when protesters converged on the army headquarters in Khartoum prompting al-Bashir’s ouster. Media reported that in Darfur, at least nine people have been killed in crackdowns over the past week.

Al-Bashir was ousted on April 11, when then-Vice President and Defense Minister Awad Ibn Ouf dissolved Sudan’s government, suspended its constitution, and announced that a military council would take over for a two-year transitional period. He said al-Bashir was under house arrest in a “safe place.” The next day, Ibn Ouf, who is among the Sudanese officials under sanction by the United States government for crimes in Darfur, resigned and was replaced by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the inspector general of the armed forces and the commander of Sudanese forces fighting in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

Salah Gosh, the head of Sudan’s draconian NISS, also resigned. Gosh oversaw NISS from 2004 to 2009 and again from 2018 to 2019. He oversaw forces who cracked down with lethal violence on several protests, including in recent months and in September 2013 when security forces opened fire on protesters killing more than 170 on the streets of Khartoum, Omdurman, and other cities.

On April 13 in a speech as head of the military council, al-Burhan lifted the curfew imposed by al-Bashir, and pledged respect for human rights, accountability for corruption, and justice for killings of protesters and other human rights violations, among other promises. He said that some members of the former ruling NCP had been arrested. The council has since dismissed several top officials, including the prosecutor general.

However, the council named Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, “Hemeti,” the commander of the abusive Rapid Support Forces (RSF), as al-Burhan’s deputy. Human Rights Watch and others have documented serious crimes by the RSF in Darfur and conflict zones in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile since 2013. It is also part of the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen. Hemeti’s role as deputy head of the transitional military council should not make him immune to accountability for the crimes of forces he commanded, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has documented grave human rights violations and potential war crimes in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile, as well as patterns of repression across the country, including killing protesters.

Al-Bashir is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes at the ICC based on attacks against civilians in Darfur dating back to 2002 contained in an arrest warrant issued in 2009 and a second warrant issued in 2010.

ICC arrest warrants for four other Sudanese suspects are outstanding. These are for Ahmed Haroun, who was acting head of the NCP and former governor of Southern Kordofan state; Abdulraheem Mohammed Hussein, the former defense minister; Ali Kosheib, a militia leader; and Abdallah Banda Abakaer, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a rebel group in Darfur.

On March 31, 2005, the United Nations Security Council mandated the ICC prosecutor to investigate crimes in Darfur under resolution 1593. Sudan is not an ICC member.

“The dramatic developments in Sudan herald new openings to do right by victims of the violent crackdowns on protests and other crimes against civilians for the last three decades,” said Henry. “The transitional military council should act on its promises by handing al-Bashir and the others facing ICC arrest warrants over to the court at once and by investigating and prosecuting other abuses.”

Iraq: Torture Persists in Mosul Jail

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, April 18, 2019

In its August 2018 report on Faisaliya detention facility, Human Rights Watch interviewed Mahmoud who said he was hung in the “bazoona” position at least six times while in detention, for hours. He said that at least four of those times, he lost consciousness before being taken down. Sometimes officers threw water at him before beating his back with a metal cable, he said.

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

(Erbil, April 18, 2019) – Iraqi officers have committed torture at a detention facility in Mosul at least through early 2019, months after Human Rights Watch reported on the abuses and shared information about those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iraqi government did not respond to two Human Rights Watch letters requesting an update on steps taken to investigate the allegations.

“If the Iraqi government ignores credible reports of torture, it’s no wonder that the abuses persist,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What will it take for the authorities to take torture allegations seriously.”

In August 2018, Human Rights Watch published a report alleging the use of torture in three facilities under the Interior Ministry in and around Mosul. It was based on statements from two former detainees and the father of a man who died during interrogation. One former detainee, who was held at the Faisaliya detention facility for four months, provided Human Rights Watch with the names of four interior ministry officers whom he said he saw torturing detainees.

Before publishing its report, Human Rights Watch sent detailed allegations including the names of the four officers implicated to the human rights adviser in the Prime Minister’s Advisory Commission. In February, Human Rights Watch wrote to Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim and the Interior Ministry Inspector General, Jamal al-Asadi, asking whether the government had investigated the Human Rights Watch allegations. Human Rights Watch received no reply to either letter.

A former prisoner, whose name and identifying details have been withheld for his security, described what he saw at Faisaliya detention facility in early 2019.

He said that guards took him to a section behind a metal door cut off from the rest of the cells on the evening he arrived. His description matched that of other former detainees who spoke to Human Rights Watch.


Diagram of the cells where Mahmoud said he was held in Faisaliya Prison from January until May, 2018

© 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

He said he saw eight detainees standing naked. Four guards were throwing water at them from a bucket, after which they pushed the detainees to the floor one by one, lifted their legs, and placed their feet through two rope loops attached to a wooden stick to keep the feet in place. He said he watched as the guards took turns beating each of the detainees on their feet with plastic piping for about 15 minutes nonstop. He said that after the beatings, six of the detainees confessed to being affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS), with each negotiating the length of their membership they would confess.

The guards used a form of “waterboarding,” referred to as al-safina (“boat” in Arabic) on the two detainees who had not confessed, he said. Five guards and an officer strapped each detainee in turn, still naked, onto an orange gurney and tipped it backward, so that the detainee’s feet were raised above his head and covered his face with a towel. For about five minutes, they beat each one with plastic piping while pouring water over his mouth.

He said that the guards then bound the men’s hands behind their backs and suspended them from the ceiling using a hook and pulley, in a position referred to as bazoona (the word for cat in Iraqi dialect) for about one hour. He said the men had all confessed by around 2 a.m. and were taken back to their cell.

An hour later, he said, when he and the 12 other detainees were in the group cell he shared lying down, three or four guards came in and stamped on them with their boots, while singing a well-known ISIS song.

He named three of the four Interior Ministry officers overseeing that section of the detention facility, whom Human Rights Watch had identified in its August report. He also gave the name of another officer he said had overseen the torture. He said that all four officers directly participated in the torture.

Iraqi judges, despite the extensive credible reports of torture in detention, routinely fail to investigate torture allegations. On April 1, 2019, Iraq’s High Judicial Council replied to a Human Rights Watch inquiry into the judiciary’s response to torture allegations, stating that a range of Iraqi courts had investigated 275 complaints against investigative officers by the end of 2018. The High Judicial Council stated that 176 of the cases have been “resolved” while 99 were still being addressed. The council did not indicate how many of the 176 cases were being further investigated or had been dismissed.

Inspector General Jamal al-Asadi should promptly investigate the allegations at Faisaliya detention facility, including the officers implicated in past Human Rights Watch reporting

Iraq’s High Judicial Council should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges torture. Judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation. Parliament should pass the draft Anti-Torture Law, which would require judges to order a medical examination of any detainee alleging torture within 24 hours of learning of the allegation.

Iraq’s foreign minister should also urge parliament to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which would allow prison visits by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention. Pending ratification, the government should commit to setting up a national unit to prevent torture, known as a national prevention mechanism, with the authority to inspect all detention centers in Iraq and to set up an effective complaint systems for authorities and facilities involved in detention and interrogations.

The heads of the federal intelligence agency, NSS, and the new interior minister, once appointed, should issue statements to their subordinates prohibiting the use of torture and other ill-treatment, and making clear that they will punish those responsible. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi should publicly condemn the use of torture by all law enforcement, security, and military personnel.

“Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi’s government should demonstrate to the Iraqi people that it is serious about ending torture in Iraq’s detention facilities,” Fakih said. “Strong actions are needed.”

Myanmar: Satire is Not a Crime

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and first lady Cho Cho, left, smile as they take part in the first day of Myanmar traditional water festival, also known as Myanmar New Year, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar on Saturday, April 13, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo (New York) – Myanmar authorities should drop charges against four performers for criticizing the military in a satirical thangyat performance, Human Rights Watch said today. Thangyat is a form of slam poetry traditionally performed during Myanmar’s April New Year holiday that has long been a vehicle for humorous criticism of everything from politics to social behavior.

On April 15, 2019, police arrested four members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe in Yangon after they live-streamed their act on Facebook. Zayar Lwin, Pang Ye Thu, Paing Phyo Min, and Su Yadanar Myint were released after being charged with violating section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which has been repeatedly used against those criticizing the government or the military online. Su Yadanar Myint told the media that the group wore military uniforms during a performance the previous week.

“Myanmar’s authorities are demonstrating once again their intolerance of criticism, even in satirical form,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser. “Rather than arresting their critics, the government should listen to what they have to say.”

In another recent case, the authorities detained filmmaker and human rights activist, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, on criminal charges for a series of Facebook posts criticizing the role of the military under the country’s 2008 Constitution. At a hearing on April 12, the court denied him bail even though he has liver cancer.

The current government has previously brought criminal charges for satirical criticism. In April 2018, eight students were convicted of criminal defamation for performing a satirical anti-war play, and the man who live-streamed the play was sentenced to three months in jail for violating section 66(d).

The editor of the Voice Daily was detained for two months on criminal defamation charges after the paper posted online a satirical review of a military-made movie. And the editor of the Thanintharyi Journal was fined 500,000 kyat (US$330) in February for a satirical article that was alleged to damage the reputation of the chief minister of the state.

The latest arrests follow a controversy over attempts by the authorities in Yangon to censor thangyat lyrics. Officials told all troupes intending to perform in Yangon to submit their lyrics for approval in advance, and there were reports that officials pressured local venues not to host those who did not do so. A spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed that the curbs on thangyat were “temporary” measures as Myanmar moves toward democracy. Some troupes refused to submit to censorship and performed on the street instead.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on the right to freedom of expression, stated that the “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “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.”

“By censoring satire and arresting those who refuse to be censored, Myanmar’s government is showing utter disregard for free expression,” Lakhdhir said. “Charges against satirists, whether poets or writers, should be dropped and the government should promptly amend or repeal all laws that criminalize peaceful criticism.”

Small States and the UN Security Council

Opinio Juris - Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Yesterday I participated in the launch of a new report at the International Peace Institute, entitled ‘A Necessary Voice: Small States, International Law and the UN Security Council.’   A link to the report and the webcast is available here.   The conversation emphasized how the history of international law is replete with instances of how small states (defined as countries with...

Symposium on Vedanta Resources plc vs Lungowe – judgment of the United Kingdom Supreme Court

Opinio Juris - Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Carlos Lopez is a Senior Legal Adviser with the International Commission of Jurists The UK Supreme Court’s judgment in Vedanta Resources plc v Lungowe et al, handed down on 10 April, has generated considerable interest, and also raised many questions, across a broad range of legal practitioners and academicians on the legal and policy implications of the Court’s findings. In...

Whoever Wins Indonesia’s Presidential Election, Indigenous People Will Lose

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

On Wednesday, Indonesians go to the polls to determine their next president.

For one demographic, the stakes of the vote, regardless of the results, remain uncertain: the country’s indigenous peoples. Indigenous rights groups that represent some 17 million people and that could be a decisive force in the elections have been reluctant to endorse either candidate—for good reason. Major questions about the future of land rights policy remain unanswered by both of them.

Last September, I stood on the hills of Semunying, in West Kalimantan, on the Indonesian half of the island of Borneo. What was once a green tropical forest lush with evergreen rambutan trees has been taken over by a commercial palm oil plantation. Evidence of the palm oil industry extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. Stuck in the middle of all this is a small village, home to members of an indigenous people, the Iban Dayaks.

The Iban Dayaks have a worldwide population of some 751,000. About 19,000 currently inhabit this area near the Malaysia-Indonesia border, where Ibans have lived for centuries. “Our identity as Iban Dayak is almost lost now. We have no forest anymore,” Ibu Della, a 40-year-old woman whose name I have changed for her protection, told me. Over the last 10 years she has watched the forest she depended on slowly being taken over by palm oil plantations.

In 2004, the Indonesian government effectively permitted Ledo Lestari, an Indonesian company commercially cultivating palm oil for export, to strip the Ibans of their access to community land, forest, and their way of life—their very identity. In the absence of strong laws protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, the company cleared the forests without any meaningful participation from these communities. Attempts in writing and by phone to reach the palm oil company to discuss the impact on people’s land and livelihoods went unanswered.


The village of Desa Sungai has lost its land and livelihood to a palm oil plantation. Singkil swamp rainforest, Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia.

© 2008 David Gilbert Palm oil is found in half of all grocery store products and is sometimes blended into biodiesel. According to the Indonesian government, as of 2017, the country had more than 12.3 million hectares of land under palm oil production. Foreign companies and domestic companies—both private and state-owned—own or control the large plantations that produce a large share of the oil. Land clearing for plantations has resulted in a loss of forest cover and forest fires that both cause air pollution, with serious risks to respiratory health in the region, and aggravate climate change.

Palm oil cultivation has been devastating for the Ibans, who depended on the land for growing their food and on plants that grew there to supply materials for weaving mats and baskets, their main source of income.

Around the globe, indigenous peoples struggle to have their land rights recognized as international standards demand. Several countries have adopted laws in favor of indigenous collective land rights, a few others have drafted and are debating legislation, but many have not acted at all. The failure of governments to ensure community land rights exposes indigenous peoples to all manner of human rights abuses.

A draft bill before Indonesia’s parliament, the law on the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, could prevent repeats of what has happened to Ibans in Semunying and to others across the archipelago. By simplifying the process for recognizing indigenous peoples and their territories, the draft law would not only be key to the survival of indigenous peoples in the country—it would also set a path toward the resolution of many of Indonesia’s ongoing land conflicts.

Neither of the 2019 presidential contenders—the incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, a former general—seems to have a detailed plan to protect indigenous rights in the world’s third-largest democracy. Experts say that Indonesia’s political parties have few major differences on policy and ideology. Most of the divergence relates to the role of religion in public affairs, and to the candidates themselves. Jokowi is not from the political elite and has no military background. He gained national prominence as governor of Jakarta between 2012 and 2014. Prabowo represents an offshoot of an Indonesian oligarchy—a former army lieutenant general and, since he left the service in 1998, a businessman with stakes in pulp and paper, palm oil, and coal mining. Prabowo’s business interests have cultivation permits to an estimated 362,000 hectares of land.

In two televised debates, in January and February, Jokowi had little to say on the topic of land rights. During the second debate, the candidates did exchange views on agrarian reforms, which aim to redistribute agricultural land to close the economic gap and reduce the country’s inequality.

Jokowi’s government had set itself a target of redistributing 9 million hectares of land during his current term. In a bid to carry out this policy, in 2016 and 2017, he handed over 29,500hectares of customary forest to 18 indigenous communities and more to smallholder farmers, but still a far cry from the amount pledged in the country’s National Medium-Term Development Plan.

In February 2018, Jokowi launched Complete Systematic Land Registration, a program with an objective of formally registering all land in Indonesia by 2025. And that September, he announced a moratorium on issuing permits for new palm oil plantation developments in forest areas.

Prabowo criticized these policies, weak as their implementation has been. While both candidates have avoided addressing the issue of land-related conflicts, both were vocal about expanding the use of biofuel, largely palm oil, to reduce the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuel. Subsequent debates did not touch on land conflicts nor environmental issues.

Few candidates in the regional elections last year made the issue a priority in their campaigns. One exception, Abdon Nababan, a prominent indigenous peoples’ rights activist who ran for governor of North Sumatra, alleged that local elections campaign financing was linked to huge business interests in land. A series of investigations by Mongabay and the Gecko Project in 2017 highlighted rampant corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land deals, naming local officials who contravene the law and sell permits for plantations, often to raise money for political campaigns. But without urgent legislative action to protect indigenous peoples and their land rights, it will be hard to undo any of the devastation these communities have experienced.

According to Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, one of the main advocacy groups for indigenous peoples in Indonesia, which Nababan runs, the country has a large number of unresolved land conflict cases involving indigenous peoples, companies, and the government—some of them ongoing for over a decade. Based on a 2016 National Human Rights Commission report, the main problem in resolving these cases is the lack of legal recognition of indigenous people’s claims over their traditional territories.

Laws on the books in Indonesia that offer indigenous groups access to what is known as customary land require that they first receive formal recognition by a district or province. However, the process of gaining recognition and transferring the land has been slow because of discrepancies between national, ministerial, provincial, and district-level regulations on recognition of indigenous rights. The Ibans’ territory, for example, is not legally recognized and not registered as collective property due to extensive delays in this process—a gap that companies are able to exploit for commercial gain.

Since a Supreme Court decision four years ago that codified these land rights, about 18 communities have seen the rights to use their forests recognized, a far cry from the more than 2,332 indigenous communities that make up an estimated 50 to 70 million people, between 20 and 26 percent of Indonesia’s population. This translates to less than 100,000 hectares of the more than 9 million hectares claimed by indigenous peoples nationwide.

In April of last year, Indonesia’s home affairs minister, Tjahjo Kumolo, questioned the need for the draft bill on indigenous peoples currently under consideration, potentially stalling its passage. The Home Affairs Ministry later backtracked on the objections, but it nonetheless slowed down the bill’s progress. It remains on the priority docket, and advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights continue to lobby officials and parliament to enact it.

What happened to the Iban community in Semunying shows why this protection is needed. “Community leaders have taken sweet promises from the company that they can replace the forest with money,” Della said. “They sold the land, we lost our adat forest to the company.” (Adat, a Malay word, is often translated as “customary” or “customary rules.” Adat forests are common resources that can be used by any individual within an indigenous community.)

She said that some community members had also traded away land in 2010, believing they had no option but to sell and without knowing the full implications of what they were doing.

Since the forest was cleared, vegetation and trees that are essential for the adat way of life are difficult to find. Weaving had long been the main revenue source for Iban women, but this skill that had been handed down from mothers to daughters is fading away. Pandan leaves used to make woven mats for drying rice and sitting on during special ceremonies have become scarce since the forest was cleared. Naturally growing vines used to make rattan are gone.

“We lost our sense of community,” said Kristi, a 28-year-old woman whose name has also been changed. “This place is not a village, you can’t call it home. These are shelters, not a community. It is owned by the company.”

In 2014, the Ibans sued Ledo Lestari and the regent of Bengkayang district, where Semunying, along with the village of Pareh, are located, to get their forest back, but they lost because they have no official document recognizing them as indigenous or giving them a collective right over the land. They plan to appeal. Legal status for the Ibans as indigenous could mean requiring the company to return their land at the end of its permit or pay compensation commensurate to the market value for its use. This would enable the Ibans in Semunying and Pareh to lease the land, if they chose, and develop diverse ways of generating revenue and protecting their interests.

Indonesia’s presidential candidates have not been eager to engage with the issue of clashes over land. The longer the subject goes ignored, the worse the situation will grow for indigenous people across the country.

In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indonesia’s parliament should promptly enact the draft law to protect indigenous peoples from being dispossessed. The Indonesian government needs to make sure that this bill moves along and passes—and then take the steps needed to make the system for protecting indigenous communities work.

Strategies for Appealing the Afghanistan Decision

Opinio Juris - Wednesday, April 17, 2019
I have been thinking more about how the OTP can appeal the Pre-Trial Chamber’s refusal to authorize the Afghanistan investigation. I was perhaps a bit too dour in my assessment of whether the Appeals Chamber is likely to get the chance to reverse a decision that I consider fundamentally flawed. The most obvious option would be to seek leave to appeal...

Despite Progress, Torture in Afghanistan Still ‘Disturbingly High’

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

In its biannual report released today, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted a modest decline in torture allegations across the country. This is good news. But with about one-third of conflict-related detainees still alleging serious abuses, including severe beatings, electric shocks, near suffocation with plastic bags or water, and suspension from the ceiling for prolonged periods, the picture remains grim.


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan February 28, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

UNAMA’s numbers indicate that the most significant decreases in abuse took place in 2018 in facilities under the control of the main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Not all NDS facilities improved: in Khost, for example, reports of abuse remained quite high, but the pattern suggests that measures undertaken by the agency in 2018 to strengthen safeguards and improve monitoring have had effect.

Other security agencies, notably the police in Kandahar province, showed very little improvement. UNAMA reported a “staggering” 77 percent of conflict-related detainees in Kandahar being subjected to brutal torture and other ill-treatment. Enforced disappearances in Kandahar, which may number in the hundreds since 2010, continue to be reported.

The Afghan government deserves credit for aligning its legislation on torture with international standards and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which permits an expert UN body to conduct visits to detention centers.

But the government’s record on accountability remains abysmal. In the very few cases of torture that have been investigated, the perpetrators have faced at most only minor disciplinary sanctions. Nor have the victims received compensation as required by law.

So long as torturers face no real consequences, serious abuse will continue. The Afghan government knows what it should do to curb torture. It’s time it did so.

Who Cares About Kenyan Women?

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Women take part in a protest along a main street in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi November 17, 2014. The demonstrators were demanding justice for a woman who was attacked and stripped in Nairobi by men who claimed that she was dressed indecently.

© 2014 Reuters

Kenyan media has recently been awash with reports of gruesome killings of women. So far in 2019, dozens of women have reportedly been killed by their partners. Many others have been gravely injured. On International Women’s Day, Kenyan women took to social media and the streets with the hashtag #TotalShutDownKe, demanding that authorities do more to protect them. But instead of being supported, they are being blamed for the crimes against them, and further bullied online.

One of the most prominent cases involves the murder of a 26-year-old university student, Sharon Otieno. Otieno, who was seven months pregnant, is said to have been abducted, raped, and then killed. The personal assistant of a senior politician she was in a relationship with has been arrested for questioning. But instead of mobilizing people to act against the rising scourge of violence against women, her death sparked victim-blaming and a debate narrowly focused on so-called transactional romantic relationships, instead of the terrible crime committed.

But violence continues. Last week, after another university student, Ivy Wangechi, was killed by a man she knew a few days before her 25th birthday, a popular local radio station ran a segment mocking her death. Three days after Ivy’s murder, Peninah Wangechi, 30, was rushed to hospital after she was stabbed 17 times by her husband who had repeatedly threatened to kill her. The police are investigating both incidents, but there is little faith that the cases will lead to justice thanks to Kenya’s dismal record of punishing these types of crimes.

Violence against women is endemic in Kenya. A recent national health survey found that almost half of Kenyan women aged between 15 – 49 say that they have been beaten, harassed, or raped, often by someone they know.

Kenyan women are overcoming social and other barriers to speak out against this violence.

Shortly before Women’s Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that he values the contributions that women make to Kenyan society. But one month after the women’s protest, why hasn’t he sent a strong message to assure women that their lives matter? Kenya’s women cannot wait a day longer for protection – and justice.