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Libya: No Free Elections in Current Climate

Human Rights Watch - 1 hour 12 min ago

A woman votes at a polling station inside a school in Tripoli, Libya, June 25, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

(Geneva) – The United Nations should urge the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and competing authorities in eastern Libya to create conditions conducive to a free and fair vote before rushing to hold general elections in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

For elections to be free and fair, they need to be held in an environment free of coercion, discrimination, or intimidation of voters, candidates, and political parties, Human Rights Watch said. Three key elements should be respected: protection of free speech and assembly; rules that are neither discriminatory nor arbitrary in excluding potential voters or candidates; and the rule of law, accompanied by a functioning judiciary that is able to deal fairly and promptly with disputes concerning the elections. The judiciary should be prepared to fairly resolve disputes around campaigns and elections, such as on registration, candidacies, and results. Election organizers need to ensure that independent monitors have access to polling places.

“Libya today couldn’t be further away from respect for the rule of law and human rights, let alone from acceptable conditions for free elections,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to be able to guarantee freedom of assembly, association and speech to anyone participating in the elections.”

The UN has publicly supported holding elections in 2018. It is essential for UN officials and the Security Council to join forces to press all Libyan parties to ensure that the conditions for a credible nationwide election can be met before organizing one, Human Rights Watch said.

During a meeting brokered by President Emmanuel Macron of France in July 2017 between Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, of the Government of National Accord, and Khalifa Hiftar, commander of the Libyan National Army forces based in eastern Libya, both agreed in principle to hold speedy elections, within the first half of 2018. Currently, there is no comprehensive plan or guarantees, to secure protection for freedom of association and assembly and the rule of law.

Serraj later told the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a meeting in Tripoli that his government was “pushing ahead” for 2018 elections. Agila Saleh, head of the Libyan House of Representatives, based in eastern Libya, which supports Hiftar’s group, has called for parliamentary and presidential elections “as soon as possible to end disputes over the legitimacy and competition for political positions in Libya.”

The UN Security Council and the European Union back the Government of National Accord, which is supported by armed groups and militias in western Libya, but has limited control over territory. The other, rival, Interim Government based in the eastern cities of al-Bayda, Tobruk and Benghazi, is also supported by the Libyan National Army, which controls large swaths of eastern and southern Libya, with the exception of the eastern city of Derna.

Violence following the last Libyan general elections in 2014 led to the collapse of central authority and key institutions, notably law enforcement and the judiciary. The result was two opposing governments competing for legitimacy. Armed groups have, since then, kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, tortured, forcibly disappeared, and killed thousands of people, with impunity. The protracted conflicts have decimated the economy and public services, and internally displaced 165,000 people.

Jeffrey Feltman, under-secretary-general for political affairs, pledged the UN’s support for organizing “inclusive” elections in 2018. The special representative to the UN secretary general and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, has often publicly expressed his wish for general elections in 2018, while acknowledging the lack of a constitutional framework and suitable conditions in Libya.

In an effort in September to reinvigorate a stalled political process amid violent conflicts, Salamé announced a new Action Plan for Libya. The plan included consensus for limited amendments to the existing Libyan Political Agreement, followed by a national conference, a constitutional referendum, and legislation to provide for parliamentary and presidential elections. The EU, EU member states – including France – and the United States, have all endorsed the Action Plan. No date has been announced for these steps.

Restrictive laws have undermined freedom of speech and association in Libya, and armed groups have intimidated, harassed, threatened, physically attacked, and arbitrarily detained journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders. The penal code stipulates criminal penalties for defamation and for “insulting” public officials and the Libyan nation or flag and imposes the death penalty for “promoting theories or principles” that aim to overthrow the political, social, or economic system.

Laws on peaceful assembly unnecessarily limit citizens’ ability to freely express themselves through spontaneous and organized demonstrations and protests, with unduly harsh penalties. Authorities should ensure that any restrictions on public gatherings are strictly necessary for protecting public order.

The criminal justice system has all but collapsed. Civilian and military courts in the east and south remain mostly shut, while elsewhere they operate at reduced capacity. Armed groups have threatened, intimidated, and attacked judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and government officials. Law enforcement and criminal investigation departments around the country are only partially functional, often lacking the ability to execute court-issued summons and arrest warrants. Libya’s courts are in no position to resolve election disputes including on registration and results.
Prison authorities, often only nominally under the Ministries of Interior, Defense, and Justice of the two rival governments, hold thousands of detainees in long-term arbitrary detention without charges. Armed groups operate their own informal detention facilities. Under article 44 of the Libyan Political Agreement, the Government of National Accord should ensure that the authority to arrest and detain anyone is strictly limited to statutory law enforcement bodies, in compliance with Libyan and international law.

The High National Elections Commission, responsible for organizing elections, was established in January 2012 by the National Transitional Council. It announced the official start of the election process on December 7, with voter registration. By February 15, more than 2.4 million people had registered, its statistics show. As of March 8, 6,267 Libyans living abroad had registered. The commission extended the deadline several times, most recently until March 31. The International Organization for Migration estimates that at least 141,000 Libyans lived in the diaspora in 2015, although recent figures could be much higher.

Voter registration should be inclusive, accessible, and ensure that the largest number of eligible Libyans inside and outside the country can register, Human Rights Watch said. Provisions should also be made to register people held in long-term arbitrary detention without a criminal conviction since there is no legal basis for disqualifying them. The elections commission should also ensure regular transparent audits of its voter register to rule out any inaccuracies.

The legal framework for holding elections remains opaque. The election commission can only hold elections if the House of Representatives passes an elections law. Libya has only an interim Constitutional Covenant, adopted in 2011. A draft constitution proposed by the Constitution Drafting Assembly in July has yet to be put to a national referendum. The election commission has yet to clarify the legal framework for participation by political parties, and how independent and international monitors can be brought safely to all areas where voting is planned.

As a party to international human rights treaties, Libya is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee freedom of speech, expression, and association. Libya is also bound by the 2002 African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, which state that democratic elections must be held under “democratic constitutions and in compliance with supportive legal instruments,” and under a “system of separation of powers that ensures in particular, the independence of the judiciary.”

Individual Compensatory Claims for WWII Atrocities in the Final Report of the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on Reparations: Anything New Under the Sun? Part I

Opinio Juris - Tuesday, March 20, 2018
by Dimitrios Kourtis

by Dimitrios Kourtis [Dimitrios Kourtis is a PhD cand. at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and former national expert to the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on WWII Reparations. This is the first part of a two-part posting.]  As already known, between the Hellenic Republic and Germany there is a long standing and unresolved dispute regarding […]

Jewelry, Watch Firms Should Reveal Sources at Baselworld Fair

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Jewelry companies scrutinized by Human Rights Watch.

© 2016 Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Vera Wang LOVE; © 2013/Alamy;  © 2014 Michael Nagle/ Bloomberg via Getty Images; © 2017 Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images; © 2011/Alamy; © Noebse / Wikimedia Commons;  © 2013 Waring Abbott/Getty Images; © 2014/ Alamy; ©Tony Latham/LOOP images via Getty Images; © 2011 Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic; © 2008/SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

(Basel) – Jewelry and watch companies exhibiting at the Baselworld jewelry and watch fair should disclose their sourcing practices and supply chains, Human Rights Watch said today. Baselworld, one of the world’ largest jewelry and watch fairs, will take place from March 22 to 27, 2018 in the Swiss city of Basel.

“Baselworld is a glamorous event displaying stunning new jewelry and watches,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Companies should give just as much attention to responsible sourcing of their precious minerals and stones as they do to beautiful design.”

Human Rights Watch has documented how precious minerals, such as gold and diamonds, are sometimes mined under abusive conditions. Communities near mines have faced ill-health and environmental harm as mines have polluted waterways with toxic chemicals. Civilians have suffered in armed conflict situations when armed groups have fought over access to mines. And children have risked their lives when working in small-scale mines in Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the gold and diamond sourcing policies and practices of 13 well-known jewelry brands. It found that most companies do not do enough to trace their gold and diamonds back to the mines of origin, address human rights concerns in their supply chains, and share information with the public about their supply chains and efforts to source responsibly. It also found that many jewelers rely on their certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an industry body with weak standards and an audit process that lacks transparency.

However, Human Rights Watch also found that the practices of companies differ significantly, and that some companies are taking important steps in the right direction. Tiffany stands out for its ability to track its gold back to the mine, and for its thorough assessments of human rights impacts. Two jewelers with weaker sourcing approaches, the UK jeweler Boodles and the German jeweler Christ, recently pledged to strengthen their practices. The Responsible Jewellery Council, which has over 1,000 members, has signalled openness to strengthening its standard.

Among the businesses scrutinized by Human Rights Watch that exhibit at Baselworld are:

  • The Italian jeweler Bulgari (ranked “moderate”): Bulgari checks human rights risks in its supply chain by visiting suppliers and, occasionally, mines. The company takes extra steps to ensure it tracks its gold through the supply chain. Unfortunately, it does not trace its diamonds back to the mines of origin and does not publish details about its sourcing efforts or the names of its suppliers.
  • The Swiss jeweler Chopard (ranked “weak”): Chopard stands out as a company that sources part of its gold from Fairmined certified mines – small-scale mines with that adhere to a rigorous, regularly checked standard. Unfortunately, Chopard does not say publicly what percentage of its gold originates from these mines, and what it does to source its other gold and its diamonds responsibly.
  • The US jeweler Harry Winston (ranked “weak”): Harry Winston states that it adheres to industry standards on ethical sourcing but provides little information on its suppliers or how it monitors human rights risks in its supply chain.
  • The Swiss watchmaker Rolex (no ranking due to non-disclosure): Rolex does not provide any information publicly on its sourcing practices or its suppliers.

Companies should ensure their supply chains are traceable, transparent, and regularly assessed for human rights conditions, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch and 28 nongovernmental organizations and trade unions have also jointly published a Call to Action for the jewelry industry, calling for robust human rights safeguards in their supply chains. In addition, Human Rights Watch has a digital campaign, #BehindTheBling, calling on jewelers to adopt responsible sourcing policies and practices.

For its report, Human Rights Watch approached 13 jewelry and watch brands, selected to include well-known brands from various geographic areas and markets. The brands collectively generate more than US$30 billion in annual revenue – about 10 percent of global jewelry sales. Ten of the companies responded to the Human Rights Watch request for information: Boodles, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Christ, Harry Winston, Pandora, Signet (parent company of Kay Jewelers, Zales, Ernest Jones, and H. Samuel), Tanishq, and Tiffany. Three did not respond: Kalyan, Rolex, and TBZ.


Human Rights Watch assessed 13 companies against seven criteria for responsible sourcing, using information they provided directly and publicly available information.

Based on information publicly available or provided by the companies, Human Rights Watch ranked the 13 companies according to specific responsible sourcing criteria, including efforts to assess and respond to human rights risks, establish traceability, and publicly report about the company’s actions.

“The time has come for the jewelry and watch industry to put responsible sourcing at the heart of its business,” Kippenberg said. “Customers should know that no one was harmed in producing the beautiful jewelry and watches they buy and enjoy.”

Waiting for Freedom in Chechnya

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Oyub Titiev, Grozny, 2018. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Yesterday I went to Chechnya for the first time since the terrible war in 1999. It was my first time in Grozny, the capital, which has long been rebuilt and whose skyline now features modern high rises.

Yesterday was also the 70th day that Oyub Titiev has spent in jail. Titiev is the Grozny director of Memorial, the Russian human rights group that seeks justice for civilian victims of the Chechnya wars. It’s the last remaining human rights group that works openly in Chechnya, after Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, turned this republic of Russia into an enclave of fear, where even the mildest criticism of him or his government’s policies carries risk of public humiliation, enforced disappearance, or worse.

I was in Grozny to attend a hearing in which Titiev appealed the extension of his pretrial custody. Police arrested Titiev on January 9 on ludicrous marijuana possession charges. Titiev insists police planted the drugs. It’s not the first time Chechen authorities have used bogus drug charges to lock up their critics.

The judge rejected the defense’s motion to allow Titiev to sit with his lawyers instead of the defendants’ “cage” because, well, that’s the norm, he said. The defense made numerous arguments as to why Titiev should be released prior to trial, chiefly the lack of any evidence that he would obstruct justice, abscond, or threaten public security

No one was surprised when the judge ruled against Titiev. But it was still a dramatic moment and a massive injustice. It’s also hard to swallow that while Titiev unjustly sits behind bars in Grozny, the Egyptian national football team is slated to treat it as their home for Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup. FIFA, the global footballing body, recently announced a robust new human rights framework, including a focus on human rights defenders, that applies to all its operations. One way to put this policy into practice, and address the unjust and unseemly juxtaposition of Titiev in jail and FIFA enjoying the embrace of Kadyrov, would be for them speak up for Titiev at the highest level and seek his release.

As we left Grozny, a colleague pointed out where Natalia Estemirova, one of Chechnya’s top human rights activists, had lived until her murder in 2009. Natalia had encouraged Titiev to join Memorial, and he took over after her killing. I couldn’t help feeling her presence all day.

OAS Members Voice Support for International Criminal Court

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. 

© 2016 UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC) should come as no surprise. The ICC – a court of last resort to try those most responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – inevitably runs up against political interests opposed to accountability.

But Duterte’s angry rejection of the court should be a reminder to all that the ICC’s ability to give some victims a path to justice ultimately rests with governments. As the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, nears its 20th anniversary in July, ICC member countries should take every opportunity to voice support for the court’s essential role.

That support was on display last week when members of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Washington, DC, the tenth time the OAS has held a session on the ICC. The region has been a strong supporter of the court: 29 out of 35 OAS members are also ICC countries. This was evident in the statements of the many countries that spoke up about the ICC at the meeting.

The OAS session focused on strengthening cooperation with the court, which, in additional to political backing, relies on governments for help in investigations and arrests. The meeting also commemorated the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, signed on July 17, 1998. Mexico and Ecuador each announced special initiatives planned for the year.

ICC member countries in all regions should make the most of this anniversary year by voicing their support, particularly at the highest levels of government, and through concrete steps that can assist the court, for example, by bringing attention to the need for cooperation in arrests. These countries should highlight the ICC’s role in providing an important counterpoint to the impunity for grave international crimes that persists in much of the world.

The OAS’s focus on the ICC treaty’s 20th anniversary will hopefully be followed by many other initiatives this year.

Summit of the Americas: Is There a Place for Venezuela?

Opinio Juris - Tuesday, March 20, 2018
by Ricardo Arredondo

by Ricardo Arredondo [Ricardo Arredondo is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Buenos Aires.] 1. Introduction In recent months, Latin-American countries have been actors and witnesses of a heated debate, as tend to be those in which Venezuela participates or is the subject of the discussion. This time the issue revolves around […]

Sri Lanka: Little Action on Promised Justice, Reforms

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Sri Lankan Tamil women hold up photographs of their missing family members as they wait to hand over a petition to the UN head office in Colombo on March 13, 2013.

© 2018 Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters
(Geneva) – The Sri Lankan government should announce a time-bound plan to carry out its pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council since October 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. At an interim update before the Council this week on progress towards fulfilment of its human rights commitments, UN member countries should press Sri Lanka to ensure justice and accountability for the tens of thousands of victims of the country’s brutal civil war.

In October 2015, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 30/1 by consensus in which Sri Lanka pledged to set up four transitional justice mechanisms to promote “justice, reconciliation and human rights” in the country. These included an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, and investigators; a truth and reconciliation mechanism; an office of missing persons; and an office for reparations. Thus far only the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has been set up – just ahead of the current session in Geneva. The high commissioner for human rights, in a report to the Council, expressed similar concerns. The Council will discuss the high commissioner’s report this week.

“The Human Rights Council needs to make it clear to the Sri Lankan government that it expects it to stop playing games and start delivering on its commitments,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “The Sri Lankan government needs to move beyond pre-session PR and present a meaningful and concrete plan to deliver results for the victims who have been awaiting justice for far too long.”

Human Rights Watch welcomed the December action by the government to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Creating the Office of Missing Persons, while a positive step, is just the latest body set up in Sri Lanka to look into enforced disappearances. Reports of prior government-established commissions, some of which have been made public in recent years, have not led to accountability.

“The Office of Missing Persons now represents their last best hope to learn the fate of their loved ones,” said Fisher. “It must do its work quickly and properly. Families of the disappeared have appeared before commission after commission, and many have camped out in the open over the past year in protest of government inaction.”

The justice and accountability mechanism in the 2015 resolution is a key demand from victims and families affected by Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both sides to the conflict, which ended in May 2009 with a decisive government victory, committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, enforced disappearances, and torture. The government should publicly set out when this mechanism will be set up instead of hiding behind various politically expedient excuses, Human Rights Watch said.

The government has also failed to deliver on its other pledges under the 2015 resolution. A government-commissioned task force led by independent activists carried out a nationwide consultation down to the grass-roots level and delivered a detailed report on the expectations of victims and affected communities. However, the report and its recommendations have languished and it is unclear whether the government will take them into account in either the Office of Missing Persons or the other transitional justice mechanisms.

Another key outstanding pledge, namely security sector reform including the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), also remains unfulfilled. Sri Lanka has a long history of abuses by security forces, both during and after the civil war. The security forces have long used the PTA to detain suspects for years without charge, facilitating torture and other mistreatment. The government’s claims to be working on repealing and replacing the PTA with a rights-respecting law have yet to come to fruition.

Additionally, Sri Lanka’s state of emergency laws and regulations under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) create a legal framework for abuse by the security forces in the name of national security interests. The government recently resorted to emergency rule in response to anti-Muslim riots in the Kandy district. The government was largely successful in quelling the riots, arresting dozens of people suspected of instigating and participating in the violence, but the episode highlighted the lack of action in limiting the PSO’s broad powers. The government had pledged to review these regulations under Resolution 30/1 but they still permit the authorities to detain people for up to 14 days before being produced in court.

“A lack of justice and impunity for past abuses fuels current abuses in Sri Lanka,” Fisher said. “The government’s delay in undertaking promised reforms is a slap in the face to the victims and their families who have waited for years for answers. The government should stop hiding behind politically expedient excuses and act on its pledges.”

Insult China’s National Anthem at Your Peril

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

Security guards wave to urge Hong Kong fans stop booing and turning their backs during Chinese national anthem, at the Asian Cup preliminary match between Hong Kong and Lebanon in Hong Kong, China November 14, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Hong Kong people have seen their right to free expression increasingly threatened under Chinese Communist Party rule, but soon they are likely to have even more to worry about. This week Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, will officially kick off discussion on a proposed law that could criminally punish – with up to three years in prison – anyone who “insults” the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”

If enacted, the bill will penalize anyone who “performs or sings” the anthem “in a distorted or derogatory manner,” or “publicly and willfully alters the lyrics or the score.” Schools will be required to teach students to sing and “understand the history and spirit” of the national anthem.

But what would constitute an “insult” to the song? Unnamed government sources say it will depend on the person’s “intent,” encouraging political interpretations by the authorities.

As with other vague bans on free speech in Hong Kong, discussions about what is allowed have quickly brought out the absurdity of the bill. One Hong Kong newspaper tried to clarify the bill by positing different scenarios in a “question and answer” format: in one, the paper asks whether people at a restaurant could face prosecution if they fail to stand when the anthem is played on television. Citing “official sources,” the paper reassures those who do not stand because they are eating, but suggests that other gestures – such as flipping a middle finger – might not earn similar leniency.   

International human rights law permits restrictions on speech to protect national security or public order, but only when absolutely necessary and strictly proportionate to the risk of harm to those interests. The proposed law does not meet this requirement and would violate such rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s functional constitution, the Basic Law.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has played down fears the bill could be politicized, saying it merely aims to encourage “respect” for the anthem. Yet she has not acknowledged citizens’ concerns about forcing their political loyalty to Beijing, or how mainland authorities’ frequently jail people for peaceful criticism. Enacting this law will merely remind Hong Kong people just how tenuous their rights to free speech are.

Italy: Migrant Rescue Ship Impounded

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

Proactiva’s rescue ship Open Arms on mission in November 2017. 

© 2017 Pau Coll   (Milan) – Italy has impounded a rescue ship and threatened criminal charges against two members of its crew and the founder of the organization after they refused to turn migrants over to Libyan forces, fearing that they would be abused, Human Rights Watch said today.   On March 18, 2018, an Italian prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, impounded the Spanish rescue group Proactiva’s ship Open Arms and is considering levelling charges of criminal association for the purposes of facilitating irregular migration after Proactiva refused to transfer people rescued in international waters to a Libyan patrol boat. Everyone intercepted by Libyan forces or handed over to them is taken to Libya and placed in detention.   “Proactiva acted to save migrants’ lives and then prevented them from being abused in indefinite detention,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director for Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is perverse to try to characterize as criminal a refusal to hand victims to Libyan coast guard forces knowing they could face possible torture and rape in Libyan detention centers.”   International human rights and refugee law prohibits returning anyone to a place where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment – the nonrefoulement principle. Empowering Libyan forces to capture people on the high seas, when it is known that they will return them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in arbitrary detention exposes Italy and other European Union (EU) states involved to charges of aiding and abetting in serious human rights violations in detention, Human Rights Watch said.   Italy’s strategy to reduce boat arrivals is in line with the EU’s approach to migration cooperation with Libya. The EU is supporting training and technical assistance to Libyan coast guard forces nominally under the United Nations (UN) and EU-backed Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, and wants to expand those efforts. Despite EU insistence, the International Maritime Organization has not yet recognized a Libyan search-and-rescue zone, and Libya does not yet have a fully functioning maritime rescue coordination center.   Italy has delivered four patrol boats to Libyan coast guard forces. The Libyan forces included patrol boat 648, which was involved in this incident as well as a deadly intervention in November 2017 that cost the lives of at least 50 people, according to the German nongovernmental group Sea-Watch.   Based on a detailed incident report provided by Proactiva, the Open Arms responded on March 15 to an overcrowded rubber dinghy in international waters, 73 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) informed the Open Arms after it reached the rubber boat that Libyan forces had command over the operation, but told the Open Arms crew to use their judgment. For the security of the people on board the rubber dinghy, Proactiva decided to provide everyone with life jackets and to transfer all the women and children to Proactiva’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats and stayed nearby.   Libyan coast guard patrol boat 648 reached the scene approximately 30 minutes later. Anabel Montes, the search-and-rescue coordinator on board Open Arms, told Human Rights Watch that coast guard officers threatened via megaphone and radio, in English, to kill the crew on the Proactiva boat holding women and children if it did not turn them over. Eleven men jumped out of the rubber boat into the water and were also taken on board by the Proactiva boats. At one point, the Libyan patrol boat and its own rubber dinghy sandwiched one of the Proactiva boats, and an unarmed Libyan officer boarded to convince people to transfer to the patrol boat. He desisted in the face of everyone’s refusal to cooperate.   After a three-hour stand-off, the Proactiva crew were able to safely transfer all women, children, and men to the Open Arms ship and proceed north. For more than 24 hours, the crew was unsure where they would be able to disembark the rescued people. The Italian Maritime rescue coordination center told them Italy had not coordinated the rescue and was therefore not responsible.   The national coordination center in Madrid, Spain, the ship’s flag state, told them they couldn’t help because Proactiva had performed a rescue in “Libya’s SAR zone.” Malta agreed to evacuate an infant and her mother for medical reasons. The Spanish government interceded on Proactiva’s behalf, and Italy eventually allowed disembarkation in Pozzallo, Sicily, on the morning of March 17.   The prospect of charges against Proactiva is the latest in a series of measures to discredit nongovernmental rescue groups, Human Rights Watch said. Anti-immigrant groups and some media carried out a concerted smear campaign in 2017. Carmelo Zuccaro, the Sicilian prosecutor who opened the investigation against Proactiva, made the news last year with broad accusations of complicity between rescue groups and smuggling networks, even though Zuccaro later confirmed to a parliamentary inquiry he had no evidence of any wrongdoing.   Another Sicilian prosecutor sequestered the Iuventus, a ship operated by the German group Jugend Rettet in August and is still pursuing an investigation into alleged facilitation of irregular migration. The Italian government imposed a code of conduct in July on rescue groups that serves a dual purpose of implying they need management and of restricting their ability to operate effectively.   “It is shocking that Europe has reached the point of criminalizing rescue at sea,” Sunderland said. “Europeans should support, not smear, people saving lives in the Mediterranean, and remember that EU and Italian policies are propping up a cycle of detention and violence in Libya, while groups like Proactiva are saving lives.” 

No Shelter in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

Members of civil society organizations chant slogans during a protest to condemn the killing of 27-year-old woman, Farkhunda, who was beaten with sticks and set on fire by a crowd of men in central Kabul in broad daylight on Thursday, in Kabul March 24, 2015.

© 2018 Reuters

More than 8 out of 10 Afghan women and girls will suffer domestic and other violence in their lifetime. Before 2001, they had nowhere to run. These days there are some safe havens: the country’s tiny, but desperately important, network of women’s shelters.

But these shelters are now under attack – and not for the first time – by Afghanistan’s own government. Last month, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) announced plans to seize control of shelter funding provided by foreign donors, and instead require shelter operators to seek funding through the ministry. This might sound reasonable – a hallmark of President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been a push for greater government control over donor funds in the name of corruption.

But we’ve seen this before. In 2011, MoWA also pushed for control of the shelters and used the same rhetoric as this time – alluding to “problems” in the refuges and suggesting – falsely – that shelters are brothels. But these abusive lies have been spread for years by opponents of women’s rights, who believe that women should have no safe haven from their husband no matter how violent and that a father or brother should have total control over the life – or death – of a woman.

In 2011, I was one of several lawyers who spent many hours reviewing the regulation MoWA sought to impose on shelters. It was clear that it intended to deprive women of refuge. Under the regulation, women would have been forced to convince a panel that they deserve shelter, and to undergo humiliating and medically meaningless “virginity tests.” Worst of all, they would have been turned over to their families at the relatives’ request – although nearly all were fleeing abuse from their own family.

In 2011, and in 2013 when MoWA tried again, international donors who fund the shelters fought back.

But foreign donor interest in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically. It is far from clear that they will fight again to save the shelters.

I have met Afghan women whose lives were saved by these refuges. I remember the fear in their eyes. If donors don’t act – and fast – they will have even more to fear. 

The Latest on Our Global War

Opinio Juris - Monday, March 19, 2018
by Deborah Pearlstein

by Deborah Pearlstein The Trump Administration last week released its first “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations.” The report continues a practice initiated at the end of the Obama Administration and subsequently codified into requirement by Congress by which the Administration […]

Ukraine: Justice Needed for Former Secret Prison Detainees

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

(Kyiv) – Victims of arbitrary detention in government-controlled secret prisons in eastern Ukraine face new, serious obstacles to justice, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.

At least five detainees held in secret facilities run by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in 2015 and 2016 filed complaints against the authorities for their enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment used to extract forced confessions, and subsequent unlawful detention. An appeals court will issue a ruling on March 27, 2018, on an appeal of a complaint that had been dismissed.

“People held for months in Ukraine’s secret detention sites endured serious abuse,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Almost two years later, facing a wall of denial from the authorities, they are as far from justice as when they were detained.”

In July 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a report documenting nine cases of arbitrary, prolonged detention of civilians by Ukrainian authorities, including some enforced disappearances. The groups also documented nine cases of arbitrary, prolonged detention of civilians by Russia-backed armed groups. Most of the cases took place in 2015 and 2016.

Soon after the release of the report and after representatives of both groups met with Ukrainian officials, the Kharkiv SBU released 13 of the people whose cases Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had been aware of. By the end of 2016, the Kharkiv SBU had released three of the others and two men whose cases were unknown to the two groups at the time.

The SBU leadership never acknowledged the detentions or releases and has continued to deny secretly detaining civilians, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others.

Five of those released have filed complaints against the Ukrainian authorities. One of them is Kostyantyn Beskorovaynyi, who spent 15 months between December 2014 and February 2016 in unacknowledged and unlawful detention in three SBU facilities – in Kramatorsk, Izyum, and Kharkiv. In June 2016, Beskorovaynyi filed a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office, alleging that he was the victim of an enforced disappearance, torture, and ill-treatment and subsequent unlawful and secret detention.

Beskorovaynyi’s lawyer told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that the authorities have still not carried out an effective investigation into his case. On March 10, 2017, an investigator from the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Kramatorsk re-designated Beskorovaynyi a witness instead of a plaintiff, allowing the investigator to promptly close the case. As a witness, Beskorovaynyi was not entitled to appeal the investigator’s decision.

On February 26, 2018, an appeals court restored Beskorovaynyi’s status as a plaintiff. On March 27, the appeals court will decide whether to order the criminal investigation reopened.

By the end of 2016, four other people that the SBU had held unlawfully in the same facility during the same period had also filed complaints about their enforced disappearance, torture, and ill-treatment and subsequent unlawful detention between December 2015 and August 2016. They told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that an investigator from the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Kramatorsk interviewed them toward the end of 2016, but they have heard nothing further.

An investigative report, aired by the Ukrainian independent TV company Hromadske on March 15, documents the secret detention of several people by the SBU in Kharkiv. Hromadske journalists interviewed Beskorovaynyi and three other detainees, as well as the SBU leadership in Kharkiv and Kyiv.

The Hromadske investigation was prompted by the allegations documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Ukraine’s international partners should urge the country’s leadership to conduct effective investigations and end impunity for enforced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, and other ill-treatment by government forces. The authorities should acknowledge the SBU’s secret detention and ensure that any remaining secret sites are closed, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

“Instead of addressing past injustices, the Ukrainian authorities are denying the truth, denying justice to victims, and stalling and obstructing effective and thorough investigation of these grave human rights violations,” said Oksana Pokalchuk, director of Amnesty International Ukraine. “Instead of cornering themselves in this way, the Ukrainian authorities should take responsibility for these abuses and identify and bring those responsible for all aspects of the secret detentions to justice.”

Drone Swarming and the Explosive Remnants of War

Opinio Juris - Monday, March 19, 2018
by Maziar Homayounnejad

by Maziar Homayounnejad [Maziar Homayounnejad is currently a PhD researcher at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London. His research primarily focuses on law of armed conflict aspects of autonomous weapon systems, with a secondary focus on arms control and non-proliferation.] On January 5th of this year, a Russian air base and a […]

Algeria: Feminist Groups Arbitrarily Suspended

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

(Beirut) – Algerian authorities sealed the premises of two women’s rights associations on February 27 on the grounds that they were not registered, Human Rights Watch said today. The groups were allowed to reopen “temporarily” on March 5.


Seals on the locks of the association Algerian Women Claiming their Rights (Femmes Algériennes Revendiquant leurs Droits, FARD). 

© 2018 Private

While the two organizations registered legally, one in 1989 and the other in 1996, authorities have since required associations to re-register under a 2012 law and refused to renew their legal status, without providing an explanation. Under the restrictive 2012 Law on Associations, Algerian authorities have broad discretion to withhold legal recognition from nongovernmental associations, keeping them in legal limbo.

“Algerian authorities should stop using the association law as a Damocles sword hanging over independent associations that they dislike,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The 2012 law, in article 70, requires organizations that were legally registered under the previous law to resubmit their bylaws or face dissolution. The two Oran-based groups, the Feminist Association for Personal Development and Exercise of Citizenship (Association Féministe pour l’Epanouissement de la Personne et l’Exercice de la Citoyenneté, AFEPEC) and Algerian Women Claiming their Rights (Femmes Algériennes Revendiquant leurs Droits, FARD) sent their new registration documents to the authorities in 2012 and 2014 respectively, but never received a registration receipt despite several efforts to follow up.

On February 25, the Oran governor issued a written decision, based on “reports that FARD and AFEPEC, two unlicensed associations, are pursuing their activities,” to close their premises “until they straighten out their legal situation.”

Fatma Boufenik, director of FARD’s counseling center for women victims of violence, told Human Rights Watch that the association received no prior notice of the closure.

“On February 27, colleagues and I were on duty assisting women at the counseling center,” Boufenik said. “We left at about 1 p.m. I live in that same neighborhood. When neighbors informed me that the police had come and sealed our office and the office of AFEPEC, I went and discovered that they had put seals in our lock.”

Boufenik said that FARD had been legally registered since 1996, under the 1990 law on associations. After legislators replaced that law in 2012, FARD held a general assembly on January 9, 2014, as mandated by the new law, and deposited the required documents with the Direction de l’Action Sociale (DAS), the local branch of the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family and Condition of Women, on January 29, 2014. On March 30, the group received a “deposit receipt” proving that the Wali of Oran had received the file. Human Rights Watch has reviewed that receipt. Since then, the authorities have not responded.

Malika Remaoun, vice president of AFEPEC, told Human Rights Watch that to comply with the 2012 law, the association held a general assembly on February 22, 2012 and deposited the required documents on February 29. “But we did not receive our deposit receipt until 2014, even though it was dated March 2012,” she said. “Since then, we have been asking for the normalization of our legal status, to no avail.”

On March 5, the governor of Oran allowed FARD and AFEPEC to reopen. His decision, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, stated that the reopening was only temporary, pending “the normalization of their legal status.”

Human Rights Watch has urged the Algerian government to revise the law on associations to make it consistent with international standards governing the right of association.

The 2012 law requires associations to obtain a registration receipt from authorities before they can legally operate. Authorities can refuse to register an association if they decide that the content and/or objectives of a group’s activities are contrary to Algeria’s “fundamental principles (constantes nationales) and values, public order, public morals and the applicable laws and regulations.” These vague criteria give authorities broad leeway to block a group’s legalization.

Article 8 of the new law states that the relevant administrative authority will issue a “mandatory deposit receipt” “on the spot” after checking the documents submitted by the association. The law gives the authority no discretion to refuse to accept the documents or to refuse to issue the receipt. The administration then has 30 to 60 days to decide whether to allow the registration to take effect.

The law states that “at the expiration of the deadlines mentioned above, the administration’s silence is tantamount to agreement. In this case, the administration is obliged to deliver the registration receipt.”

In practice, however, the administration has refused in some cases to issue the receipt.

Human rights organizations such as the Algerian League for Human Rights (Ligue Algérienne des Droits de l’Homme, LADDH), the Youth Action Rally (Rassemblement Action Jeunesse, RAJ,), and the Algerian chapter of Amnesty International, all previously registered associations that re-submitted their documents in compliance with the 2012 law, still await their legal recognition.

The lack of legal registration hobbles associations in Algeria in many ways, including preventing them from opening a bank account or renting an office in the association’s name or renting a public hall for a meeting. Moreover, members of an association that is “non-accredited, suspended, or dissolved” risk prison sentences of up to six months for conducting activities in its name.

The Stories of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Greece

Human Rights Watch - Monday, March 19, 2018

Zahra Mosawi, 28, from Afghanistan is trapped on Lesbos, Greece. Despite being a survivor of gender-based violence and in need of psychosocial support, she’s been unable to find help in the camp.

© 2017 ZALMAÏ for Human Rights Watch

Deadly, abysmal, dire, fear-inducing, insecure, cold, violent, humiliating, unfair…

I’ve used these words often over the past two years to describe the situation for thousands of asylum-seeking women, men, and children trapped on Greece’s islands. They are pawns in a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey that empowers Greece to try to force most asylum seekers back to Turkey without first hearing their claims.

Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Greece

In this special feature, Emina Ćerimović and photographer Zalmaï investigate the mental health crisis facing asylum seekers on the island of Lesbos.

Read more

Over these two years, Human Rights Watch has gathered hundreds of statements from victims describing the misery of their indefinite confinement. Some of their stories, combined with photos and videos, are featured in “Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Greece.” Here, we take viewers on a journey of the islands though the eyes of asylum-seekers – you see into their lives, their overcrowded and sagging tents, and psychological distress.

Their lives are on hold: Women, men, and children live crammed together. There isn’t enough food, water, shelter, or health care. The state of the few toilets and showers are abysmal, and particularly difficult for people with disabilities to use. Children don’t go to school and adults live out the days with nothing to do. Security has increasingly deteriorated, putting people in danger.

For most, there is no end in sight. Many people have attempted to end their lives due to the distress they experience.

“There is no peace, no safety, no dignity in Moria. It’s worse than jail,” Roula, a Syrian mother of two told me. “We are not treated as human beings.”

End The Asylum Crisis on Greek Islands

Tell Greece’s Prime Minister to end the containment of asylum seekers on the Islands by December 21, and call on other European leaders to support Greece in doing so!

Act Now

Women and girls say they experience sexual harassment and threat of violence daily, deterring them from leaving their shelters or going to the bathroom alone. They have little confidence that Greek authorities would help them if they report incidents.

On this grim anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, Greece and its EU partners should work to restore the dignity and humanity of people seeking protection, and start by scrapping the containment policy, which confines people to these islands. It is not necessary for migration control or the administration of the asylum system.

With the EU’s support, Greece should rapidly expand safe accommodation and services on the mainland and create a system to move people there quickly.

For thousands of asylum seekers trapped here, Greece’s beautiful islands are places of misery and fear. No one should live in these conditions. It is time they end this inhumane containment and #OpenTheIslands.

Russia Backs Syria in Unlawful Attacks on Eastern Ghouta

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, March 17, 2018

People walk with their belongings as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

(Beirut) – With Russia’s continued support, the Syrian government is using unlawful tactics in its assault on Eastern Ghouta, including what appears to be the use of internationally banned weapons, Human Rights Watch said today. There are significant concerns about how government forces will treat residents in areas that come under its control, given past reports of reprisal executions.

The UN Security Council should urgently demand a United Nations monitoring team be granted immediate access to areas of Eastern Ghouta, now under government control. The team should document any crimes already committed; their presence may deter further violations. They should also visit sites to which the government is transferring Eastern Ghouta residents, as there are significant concerns about their treatment. If Russia again vetoes council action, the UN General Assembly should call for the immediate deployment of monitors.

“Instead of just watching while the Syrian-Russian military alliance annihilates Eastern Ghouta, the UN Security Council should act to put a stop to these unlawful attacks,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Russia again tries to protect the Syrian government by preventing council action, the General Assembly should demand monitors for Ghouta’s residents. For weeks these people endured starvation and bombardment and now they’re at risk of detention and even execution.”

Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus, and home to an estimated 400,000 civilians, has been under attack by the Syrian-Russian military alliance since February 19. Syrian government forces have besieged Eastern Ghouta since 2013, severely restricting humanitarian aid in violation of the laws of war and preventing civilians from leaving. The alliance has bombarded Eastern Ghouta, failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets, hitting residential areas, hospitals, schools, and markets. According to the Ghouta United Relief Office, at least 1,699 residents have been killed since February 19.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch received a distress call from a member of the Syrian Civil Defense who told Human Rights Watch that he and 19 colleagues, five of whom are wounded, have been surrounded by government forces. According to him, in addition, there are 90 members of the Syrian Civil Defense and their relatives trapped in a second location, and they are all requesting safe passage to non-government-held areas. He said they fear retaliation, including summary execution, when the government takes the area.

After government forces retook Aleppo, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations received reports of reprisals and mass executions. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify the Aleppo reports and has not yet documented reprisals against Eastern Ghouta residents who have come under government control, but it has previously reported mass executions of civilians by Syrian government forces in areas that have come under their control.

The UN General Assembly’s landmark decision in December 2016 to establish a quasi-special prosecutor mechanism for Syria was prompted by outrage at the way Russia prevented the council from taking action to protect civilians during the brutal Syrian-Russian operation to retake Aleppo.

On February 24, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, to allow in humanitarian aid and stop indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as required by international law. But the resolution was never fully implemented and the council has taken no action. Russia, which shares responsibility for violations committed by joint operations of its military alliance, has used its veto 11 times to shield Syria from accountability.

There is evidence that Syria’s operation with Russia in Eastern Ghouta involves the use of internationally banned weapons, including cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and chemical weapons.

Human Rights Watch spoke to three witnesses who said that on March 7, 2018, the military alliance attacked residential areas in al-Hammouriyeh with ground-launched and air-dropped cluster munitions, among other munitions. According to local doctors and first responders, at least 20 residents died in the attack. Human Rights Watch examined photos of weapon remnants taken by a local media activist at one of the strike sites and identified the munition as an OTR-21 “Tochka” surface-to-surface, short-range tactical ballistic missile. A first responder told Human Rights Watch that there were several consecutive attacks with cluster munitions that day, including in al-Hammouriyeh, but that he could not recall precise details of their location because he had responded to many such attacks. He said the Syrian Civil Defense rescued more than 40 victims that day.

There is evidence that cluster munitions have been used in several attacks on Eastern Ghouta in March. Photographs shared by Syria Civil Defense of weapons remnants from a reported attack on March 11 show unexploded AO-2.5RT submunitions delivered in RBK-500 cluster bombs. A witness to an air attack on Hammouriyeh on March 7 gave Human Rights Watch a photograph of a AO-2.5RT submunition he said was left over from the attack. Human Rights Watch has documented Syrian government use of banned cluster munitions since 2012.

Syria Civil Defense reports that at about 11:48am on March 16, air-dropped incendiary munitions were used on the Eastern Ghouta residential area of Kafr Batna, killing at least 61 and wounding more than 200. It said that most victims were women and children who were burned alive. Photographs and video provided to Human Rights Watch by doctors, and publicly available, show at least 15 bodies with serious burns.

Photographs reported by the Syrian Civil Defense to have been taken immediately after the attack show multiple small fires burning brightly, indicating the possible use of ZAB submunitions which are delivered by Soviet or Russian-made RBK-500 bombs.

Since November 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented civilian harm from Syrian government use of air-dropped incendiary weapons. Attacks using air-delivered incendiary weapons in civilian areas are prohibited under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which Syria has not ratified.

Doctors in Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch that they have treated symptoms of chlorine use from multiple attacks, including on February 25 in Chifouniya, March 7 in al-Hammouriyeh, and on March 11 in Arbin. Human Rights Watch has not independently corroborated the use of chlorine in these strikes but has previously documented use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria, including during the government’s operation to re-take Eastern Aleppo. Syria acceded to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.

As Syrian government forces entered the town of al-Hammouriyeh on March 14, there was a frenzied aerial bombing campaign, witnesses said. Among the casualties was Ahmad Hamdan, a media activist and resident of al-Hammouriyeh, reported to have been killed by an airstrike. One witness told Human Rights Watch that on March 14: “I was trying to escape with my family, and I saw an entire family get blown up in front of my very eyes. I immediately turned back and took my children back to the basement.”

As government forces retake territory in Eastern Ghouta, civilians have started to evacuate. On March 15, Syrian and Russian media livestreamed the evacuation of what was claimed to be 12,000 residents from al-Hammouriyeh crossing to government-held areas. Human Rights Watch reviewed the footage which showed many people leaving. According to one witness and media reports, residents who have moved into areas under government control are being transported to sites around the enclave, including camps and schools, where they are being screened.

International law unequivocally prohibits summary and extrajudicial executions. In situations of armed conflict, combatants are legitimate targets as long as they take part in hostilities, but deliberately killing injured, surrendered, or captured soldiers (those hors de combat) would constitute a war crime. Any evacuation must be safe and voluntary, and protected by guarantees of security and non-reprisals. Civilians are entitled to protection whether they choose to leave or stay in an area, and parties to the conflict should not block civilians from leaving. Parties must allow impartial humanitarian relief reach civilians in need, regardless of whether the civilians have an option to leave.

The Syrian government should verifiably guarantee that the fundamental rights of individuals who were living under the control of non-state armed groups in Eastern Ghouta will be respected and protected, in particular when they are subject to security screenings and in detention. Authorities should ensure that the screening process is limited to a period of hours rather than days, and that anyone held longer is treated as a detainee and afforded all protections to which detainees are entitled under international law. No one should be presumed to be a combatant based on age or gender absent individualized evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The authorities should allow UN and other independent monitors access to all screening and detention centers.

“For every hour that a potential Russian veto prevents any decisive action by the UN Security Council, civilians on the ground in Eastern Ghouta are facing a real threat of reprisals,” said Fakih “The least the Security Council can do now is to deploy monitors to offer some protection for civilians. If the council can’t do so, the General Assembly should act as it did for Aleppo.”

Coverup in Thai Army Killing of Teenage Activist

Human Rights Watch - Friday, March 16, 2018


Ethnic Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pa-sae, 17, was shot dead by Thai soldiers during an anti-drug operation on March 17, 2017.  

An inquest in Thailand into the death of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist ended today without an answer to a critical question: What happened to the missing security camera footage the army claims justified the shooting?

Chaiyaphum Pa-sae, 17, was shot dead on March 17, 2017, by soldiers from the army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment Task Force and the Pha Muang Task Force after they arrested him for alleged drug possession in Chiang Dao district of Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province.

The investigation into Chaiyaphum’s death has been hampered by shoddy police work. In

 April 2017, the army gave police a computer hard drive containing footage from security cameras at the checkpoint where soldiers arrested and shot Chaiyaphum. But Chaiyaphum’s family found during the inquest at Chiang Mai Provincial Court that the March 17 footage was missing. No one explained how the footage – which the army had claimed proved the shooting was justified – went missing. Police, prosecutors, and judges responsible for this case did not demand that the army hand over this critical evidence even after they knew it was missing.

Lt. Gen. Wichak Siribansop, the army commander for Thailand’s northern provinces, told the media on March 23, 2017, that he saw the footage and concluded that the soldiers were acting reasonably because Chaiyaphum escaped and was about to throw a hand grenade at them.

“That was a right decision … self-defense,” Wichak said. “He [the soldier] fired one shot at the arm … but the bullet hit the boy’s vital organ ... If that was me, I would have opened fire in full automatic mode.” 

The missing footage raises doubts about the military’s claims. Thailand’s judicial authorities should not accept at face value the army’s one-sided account of Chaiyaphum’s death. They need to undertake a thorough and impartial investigation of his killing and make their findings public. They also need to investigate and prosecute possible obstruction of justice by the army.

In the 15 years since Thailand’s abusive “war on drugs” was officially declared, there have been thousands of unexplained and unaccountable deaths. Uncovering what really happened to Chaiyaphum might help to end this brutal and lawless campaign. 

US Blocks Funds to UN Population Fund – Again

Human Rights Watch - Friday, March 16, 2018

Syrian women sit in the waiting area to see a female doctor at a maternity clinic run by United Nations Population Fund inside Jordan's Al Zaatari refugee camp, which houses nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees, in Mafraq, Jordan November 22, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

While attention has been focused on the tumult around US President Donald Trump’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US officials quietly renewed a decision made last year to block funding for the UN Population Fund – known as UNFPA.

It’s hard to know exactly what justification the Administration has advanced for this decision – the notification the Trump administration sent to Congress is classified “sensitive” and thus the public has not seen it. However, the UN Population Fund has been told that, like last year, the Trump administration is claiming it violates the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which blocks US aid to any organization the US determines is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Last year, the determination provided zero evidence that the Population Fund favors or directly supports coercive abortions or involuntary sterilizations. Rather, it cited the Population Fund’s partnership with the Chinese government on family planning programs, and US concerns about the Chinese government’s abusive reproductive health policies – which include a two-child limit per family and coerced gynecological exams to check for out-of-quota pregnancies – as the basis for the determination.

UN Population Fund is an agency that goes where few others do – into war zones and countries wracked by natural disasters – to try to make sure that pregnant women and girls get health care, can deliver babies safely, and are protected from gender-based violence, even as the world falls apart around them. There is more need than they can address, and without US funding even more women will fall through the cracks.

Human Rights Watch sees Population Fund’s work firsthand around the world. My colleague recently shared her experience visiting the agency’s facilities in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees live. Since 2012, 8,500 babies have been born there with the Population Fund’s help, and no mothers have died from childbirth-related causes. Additionally, girls can play in safe spaces. “There is nowhere else in Zataari” that serves this role, my colleague said.

The US is one of the largest core donors for UNFPA and blocking this money will hurt its core functions of addressing gender-based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilations. The US has also been crucial to supporting the Population Fund’s emergency work – it was a primary donor to Zaatari’s maternal health facility – and the loss of these funds is devastating. The US Congress should keep funding UNFPA, even if the administration blocks the release of the funds. Moreover, the Senate should take a leadership role in finding a solution to preserve the important US role in supporting the Population Fund’s crisis response. Women and girls around the world are counting on it.

Symposium: Wrestling with the Long Shadow of European Transplants of International Courts in the Third World

Opinio Juris - Friday, March 16, 2018
by James Gathii

by James Gathii [James Thuo Gathii is the Wing-Tat Lee Chair in International Law and Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.] Transplanting International Courts is an important book. It invites us to expand and enrich our studies of international courts to those in the developing world. In doing so, Karen Alter […]

In a Man’s Death, a Glimpse of Libya’s Horrors

Human Rights Watch - Friday, March 16, 2018

Segen, a 22-year-old Eritrean, stares into the camera before disembarking in Pozzallo, Sicily, from the Pro Activa Open Arms rescue ship on March 13, 2018. He died several hours later.

© Kepa Fuentes

A young Eritrean man died on Tuesday in Sicily of tuberculosis compounded by severe malnutrition. His name was Segen.* He was 22.

There is so much about Segen we may never know. Did he prefer to read books or play football? What music did he like? Had he ever been in love? Who did he leave behind?

This is what we do know: Segen was rescued from the Mediterranean on Sunday by Pro Activa Open Arms, a Spanish group, and disembarked in Sicily on Monday. He died in the hospital. He told rescuers he was held captive in Libya for 19 months.

Segen may have been held in an official detention center or by smugglers – in today’s Libya, both are similar and brutal. He may have been held for ransom, or tortured while forced to call home so his family could hear him scream as he begged them to send money. He may have been sold from one smuggling network to another or forced to work without pay.

These possibilities are based on accounts I heard from migrants who escaped Libya. When I went out on a rescue ship run by SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médécins sans Frontières, they rescued many Eritreans and Somalis who had spent many months in captivity in Libya; some were severely emaciated.

If Segen had survived, there’s a good chance he would have been granted the right to stay in Europe; most Eritreans are because of serious repression, including indefinite military conscription, in Eritrea.

Yet European governments are empowering Libyan authorities to stop migrant boat departures and intercept – including in international waters – ones that do launch. All of those on board are then indefinitely detained in Libya.

While implementing policies that effectively trap people like Segen in horrible abuse, European governments are failing to resettle people the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, evacuates from Libya to Niger. Roughly 1,000 people have been taken to Niger, but only 25 have been resettled in France, leading Niger to ask UNHCR to temporarily suspend the program.

Europe can and should do more. Our governments should focus on ending the cycle of captivity and violence in Libya and help as many people as possible reach a place of safety. Ramping up resettlement is a good place to start.

*Italian authorities registered his name as Tesfalidet Tesfon, but he was known as Segen.