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A Glimmer of Hope for Workers in Georgia

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, September 10, 2019
August 22, 2019 Video Video: Miners at Risk for Death and Injury in Georgia

The safety of workers in Georgia’s mines is at serious risk due to insufficient government regulation and resulting mining practices that prioritize production quotas and put workers’ safety in jeopardy.

Merab, a 31-year-old manganese miner in Georgia, is lucky to be alive. Two years ago, while working underground, he suffered a deep cut around his waist when an exhausted colleague pressed the start button by mistake on a piece of mining equipment. He was working 12-hour shifts over 15 straight days, including at night ­ a system affecting around 380 workers employed at Georgian Manganese, in Chiatura, western Georgia.

But there could be a glimmer of hope for workers like Merab, with signs the government may finally be taking a long-needed look at the question of working hours and related issues.

August 22, 2019 Report “No Year without Deaths”

A Decade of Deregulation Puts Georgian Miners at Risk

Our August report, “No Year Without Deaths” documented how quota pressures and insufficient rest contribute to unsafe working conditions. Workers in one coal and one manganese mine described suffering deep cuts, being buried under rocks as roofs collapsed, losing limbs, suffering concussions, or narrowly avoiding serious accidents. This is possible because Georgian law does not sufficiently regulate working time, and since 2006 there has not been a proper system of workplace labor inspections in place.

In late August in a meeting to review our findings, representatives of Georgian civil society, trade unions, parliament, the EU and US delegations, and other key actors looked for ways to improve labor conditions. The discussion focused on a parliamentary initiative to be introduced in the autumn which would address legal gaps, including provisions for a full labor inspectorate and hours of work. Georgian civil society activists, however, remain alert to the risk that critics of regulation will seek to weaken the provisions or have the initiative’s implementation postponed, leaving workers unprotected and at risk.

On his part Merab told me recently that although injured at the mine, he now wants to go back to the same job, working 12-hour shifts. There aren’t other jobs paying as much in his town – in fact, the mine is the municipality’s main employer.

Workers put up with dangerous work conditions because their need for work gives them little choice. But the Georgian government does have a choice ­ and an obligation ­ to protect its workers. Georgia should do the right thing and regulate hours of work, put in place a full labor inspectorate, and ensure that Merab and all Georgian workers can work in safe, decent conditions.

Remembering a Powerful Voice in the Disability Rights Movement

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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Marca Bristo, President of Access Living, speaks at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilites Act in Washington, Monday, July 26, 2010.

© 2010 AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of Marca Bristo, tireless partner to and supporter of Human Rights Watch’s Disability Rights program. To me and so many around the world, Marca was a true force of nature; a fierce advocate, visionary thinker, incredible mentor, and kind friend. She died Monday at the age of 66.

Marca dedicated her life to pushing for the rights of people with disabilities in the United States and abroad. And she left her mark: from playing a key role in the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act to founding Access Living in Chicago, to influencing other countries’ efforts on equality, inclusion and independent living for people with disabilities.

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Marca Bristo at the Chicago Disability Pride Parade, 2017.

© 2017 Access Living

I first met Marca during negotiations on the United Nations disability rights treaty in New York. She quickly became a mentor and ally. When Marca spoke, you listened because she asked the tough and necessary questions. She embodied the disability community’s motto: “Nothing about us, without us.” She was extraordinary.

When I joined Human Rights Watch nearly 10 years ago, I knew we needed a strong group of advisers, particularly experts with disabilities, to steer our new work on disability rights. I knew we needed Marca.

From the start, Marca demanded that we not only advocate for inclusion and accessibility but practice it ourselves. Marca was instrumental in pushing Human Rights Watch to hire more staff with disabilities, make our offices more accessible, and develop a reasonable accommodations policy. Human Rights Watch benefitted a great deal from her wise counsel, dogged questions, and steadfast encouragement – and so did I, both professionally and personally. “I’m proud of you, kiddo,” she told me during one of our last phone calls.

It meant all that much more when she called me some time ago to share that Human Rights Watch would be the recipient of Access Living’s 2019 Lead On! Award for the empowerment, inclusion and independence of people with disabilities. I felt like a student being recognized by her master teacher. And on the evening of the gala, it was clear we were celebrating all that Marca had taught us.

My thoughts go out to Marca’s family and the many people around the world whose lives she touched. As we continue our fight for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, with their voices at the forefront, Marca’s legacy lives on.

Switzerland Proposes the War Crime of Starvation in NIAC

Opinio Juris - Monday, September 9, 2019
The irreplaceable Carmi Lecker called my attention yesterday to a proposal by Switzerland to deem the intentional starvation of civilians a war crime in non-international armed conflict (NIAC). At present, it is only a war crime in international armed conflict (IAC) — Art. 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute. Here is the text of the proposal: Add to article 8, paragraph...

Woman Banned from Stadiums in Iran Attempts Suicide

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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Iran's supporters shout during the FIVB Men's Volleyball World Championship first round match between Iran and Italy in Milan September 27, 2010. 

© 2010 Reuters

In March, Sahar was arrested by police trying to enter the main stadium in Teheran to watch a football match. Today, the 29-year-old lies in a hospital bed in critical condition, with life-threatening burns from a suicide attempt outside the courthouse where she faced charges for “improperly wearing hijab.” 

Since 1981, Iran has banned female spectators from football and other stadiums. As a consequence, some women dress as men to access matches, posting photos on social media in protest, and others demonstrate in front of stadiums. 

Sahar’s tragic arrest, jailing, and suicide attempt underscore the need for Iran to end its ban on women attending sports matches – and the urgency for regulating bodies like FIFA to enforce its own human rights rules.

Sahar’s sister told Rokna, an Iranian news outlet, that Sahar was trying to attend a football match when morality police arrested her in front of the country’s main sports complex, Azadi (Freedom) stadium. According to her sister, after the arrest Sahar was sent to Qarchak prison before being released on bail. Her sister also said that Sahar has bipolar disorder, and her mental health deteriorated while in prison. On the day of the suicide attempt, Sahar apparently learned from judicial authorities that she would have to serve 6 months in prison. She set herself on fire outside the court.

The stadium ban is not written into law or regulation but is ruthlessly enforced by the country’s authorities. Iran’s ban is a clear violation of the rules in FIFA’s constitution, the statutes, and human rights policy. Article 4 of the statutes says discrimination against women “is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

In June, FIFA president Gianni Infantino warned the Iranian Federation that it must take concrete steps to allow women in stadiums or else face sanctions. In August, Iranian authorities arrested four women, including one award-winning photojournalist, for flouting the stadium ban. The four were later released on bail.

Following FIFA’s pressure, Iran’s sport officials have said that women will be allowed to watch the next national team game at the Azadi stadium – but that is not enough.

FIFA’s long delay in enforcing its own rules means the ban continues and leaves the brave women and girls in Iran who challenge the ban exposed to harassment, beatings, and arrests by the Iranian authorities. FIFA urgently needs to uphold its own human rights rules, end gender discrimination, and punish violators. 

Libya and International Justice Symposium: Justice Delayed, A Promise Betrayed?

Opinio Juris - Monday, September 9, 2019
[Mary Fitzgerald is an independent researcher specializing in Libya.] When Libyans took to the streets in early 2011 demanding change, one of their key demands was justice. Four decades of Gaddafi’s experiment in dictatorship had resulted in a judicial apparatus hobbled by cronyism and corruption and distrusted by many including dissidents long subjected to state repression. The spark for the...

Disability Rights Should Be Central in US Presidential Race

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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Protesters supporting people with disabilities gather outside the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Susan Walsh

This week, ten United States presidential candidates will take the stage to debate climate change, healthcare, immigration, economic inequality, and education – all of which have direct implications for people with disabilities. But will there be any mention of disability rights?

During July’s debates, not a single question or answer touched on disability rights. The absence of this key issue in the debates underscores the obstacles people with disabilities face trying to take part meaningfully in the American political system.

One in four Americans live with a disability, including 35 million people of voting age. But voter turnout among people with disabilities is low. According to one analysis, if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as other US voters, they would cast 2.35 million additional votes. Candidates should work to improve accessibility for and engagement of people with disabilities in this election cycle.  

Almost 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, the US electoral system is still shockingly inaccessible for people with disabilities. Earlier this summer, one study found that every 2020 presidential candidate’s website failed to comply with the ADA. The US Government Accountability Office found that more than half of all polling places it examined around the 2016 presidential election had at least one obstacle for people with disabilities: voting stations that were not accessible for wheelchair users, dysfunctional earphones for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and lack of privacy for voters with disabilities.

Unfortunately, these obstacles are not limited to polling stations; lack of reasonable accommodations also affects elected representatives once in office. A Wisconsin state representative, Jimmy Anderson, who uses a wheelchair and has difficulty traveling, was denied his request to dial-in to legislative meetings by phone. Refusing to provide this reasonable accommodation sets a dangerous precedent for all Americans with disabilities.

In spite of these challenges, 2018 midterms saw a promising increase in voting rates among people with disabilities.

Silence on disability rights during the 2020 presidential race – particularly amid many minority-specific discussions around racism, immigration, and women’s rights – is both notable and unacceptable. Candidates seeking elected office should work to uplift the voices of all constituents, including the quarter of Americans who have disabilities, and champion policies that would promote their full inclusion in US politics.

Burundi: UN Rights Body Should Extend Inquiry

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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Member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Françoise Hampson (L), and chairman Doudou Diène (C), give a press conference to present a report on rights violations in the country on September 5, 2018 in Geneva.

© 2018 Getty Images

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during its ongoing session in Geneva, Human Rights Watch said today. The commission published its report on September 4, 2019.

Broad support for the important oversight mechanism from member countries across all regions would send a strong signal to Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), and the government that the world is closely monitoring the situation ahead of the country’s 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

“The Commission of Inquiry’s report confirms that grave and widespread human rights violations are persisting,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite these findings, Burundian authorities minimize and deny the gravity of the situation and have stepped up pressure on refugees to return.”

The commission concluded in its report that “serious human rights violations – including crimes against humanity – have continued to take place since May 2018, in particular violations of the right to life, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence, and violations of economic and social rights, all in a general climate of impunity.” The targets, it said, were in particular real and suspected opposition supporters and Burundians who have returned from abroad, including those under a United Nations-backed voluntary repatriation program.

The commission was established in September 2016 to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, including whether and to what extent they may constitute international crimes. Burundi’s government has refused access to the commission, and despite evidence to the contrary, it claims the situation in the country is stable and peaceful.

At a September 4 news conference, the commissioners described an environment of “‘calm based on terror.” Their report highlights that members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, now control and commit abuses against the population across the country “to keep [them] in check and compel their allegiance to CNDD-FDD.” The commission documented cases of disappearances, torture, and ill treatment of recently repatriated refugees and found that many “had the food kits and the money they were given, taken from them by Imbonerakure and local administrative authorities.”

On August 25, Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye and his Tanzanian counterpart, Kangi Lugola, jointly visited Nduta camp in Tanzania and called on refugees to return to Burundi. Lugola later told Agence France-Presse that Tanzania would begin to send all Burundian refugees back on October 1 and continue at a rate of 2,000 a week, stating that “Burundi is at peace and the refugees should go home.” Just over 180,000 Burundian refugees currently live in three camps in Tanzania.

However, in a media statement, a UN refugee agency spokesperson said in late August that hundreds still flee Burundi each month and that conditions in the country are “not conducive to promote returns.” About 75,000 Burundians have returned from Tanzania since August 2017, when Burundi, Tanzania, and the UN refugee agency signed a tripartite agreement to assist those wishing to return on a voluntary basis. In March 2018, Burundi and Tanzania set a target of repatriating 2,000 Burundians a week for the rest of the year, a target that Lugola restated in August due to frustrations over a far lower rate of return.

Setting targets for voluntary repatriation raises the risk of unlawful forced return if fewer than the target figure sign up, Human Rights Watch said

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 African Refugee Convention prohibit refoulement, the return of a refugee to a place where their life, physical integrity, or freedom would be threatened. Refoulement occurs not only when a refugee is directly rejected or expelled, but also when indirect pressure on individuals is so intense that it leads them to believe that they have no practical option but to return to a country where they face serious risk of harm.

Burundi plunged into a widespread political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a controversial third term in 2015. Abuses have persisted, and in June, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting worrying patterns of abuse, including killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and beatings, mostly by the Imbonerakure and local administrative officials and targeting real or perceived members of the recently registered opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL, Congrès National pour la Liberté).

The commission is the last remaining monitoring mechanism that can publicly report on the human rights situation in Burundi. The government forced the UN rights office to leave the country in February, and most independent local nongovernmental organizations and media outlets have been shut down or suspended.

In September 2017, Burundi supported an alternative resolution proposed by African states at the Human Rights Council to provide technical support to the government to improve its human rights record. However, the government revoked the experts’ visas and expelled them in May 2018. Burundian authorities have also failed to sign a working agreement with African Union-mandated human rights observers, significantly hampering their work.

Extending the commission’s mandate will provide important scrutiny of the country’s grave human rights situation leading up to the May 2020 elections, Human Rights Watch said. Since the beginning of the year, the exiled independent organization Ligue Iteka has documented 264 killings, 573 arrests, 194 cases of torture, and 34 disappearances.

A May 2018 constitutional referendum, which paved the way for Nkurunziza to run for two new seven-year terms, took place in an environment of widespread ill-treatment by local authorities, the police, and Imbonerakure members, with authorities doing little to bring those responsible to account. 

Although Nkurunziza has said he will not run again, the commission drew particular attention to the “major risk” posed by the 2020 election. Dozens of victims interviewed in 2019 told Human Rights Watch that refusing to join the CNDD-FDD and its youth league or to attend their rallies frequently resulted in threats and violent retribution.

A man who fled Ngozi province in June said that after refusing to join the ruling party on several occasions, he heard a knock on his door one night. “The CNDD FDD representative and two Imbonerakure from my hill were there,” he said. “They had arrested three men I know. They accused us of setting fire to a local party office, but it’s not true. They took us to a nearby river, and I saw one of the Imbonerakure lunge at one of the men with a machete. I jumped into the river and swam 50 meters to the other side.”

The man managed to escape the country. Human Rights Watch independently confirmed the deaths of two of the men he was detained with.

The political repression in Burundi has been compounded by growing concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation. According to the World Health Organization there have been over 5 million cases of malaria and 1,800 malaria-related deaths in Burundi since the beginning of 2019. In its September report, the commission concludes that “the daily conditions of Burundians … are becoming worse and worse.”

“The victims deserve to see the people responsible for this crisis prosecuted, and the commission’s authoritative reports contribute to achieving justice,” Mudge said. “Those responsible for the ongoing serious crimes in Burundi want to shut the commission down because they know the world is watching and they will one day be held to account.”

Amidst Violence, Hondurans March for Pride

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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A Honduran trans woman participates in the Pride March in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on August 24, 2019.

© 2019 Mirte Postema/Human Rights Watch

The LGBT Pride March in Honduras’s San Pedro Sula, which drew 450 people, was the uplifting culmination of a week of Pride activities that also included more sober reflections, such as a candlelight vigil for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people killed in Honduras.

LGBT activists led the August 24 march with a banner that read, “Honduras inhabitable LGBTI,” meaning “Honduras unlivable [for] LGBTI.” Despite the activists’ courage and pride, which I also observed at Tegucigalpa’s march on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in May, violence against LGBT people does make Honduras unlivable for many.

In a country where many cannot safely express their sexual orientation or gender identity publicly, it is hard to measure how much violence LGBT people in Honduras suffer. The Honduran government told Human Rights Watch it has no data on how many victims of violence are LGBT.

Absent official statistics, Lesbian Network Cattrachas maintains an observatory tallying cases of violence against LGBT people based on media monitoring and direct reports. According to Cattrachas, in 2018, 25 LGBT people were killed: 16 gay men, 5 trans people, and 4 lesbian women. And the situation appears to be worsening: the number of killings tallied between January and August of 2019 – 13 gay men, 7 trans people, and 6 lesbian women – already outpaces the entire year of 2018. San Pedro Sula is located in the region where Cattrachas has documented the highest rates of violence against LGBT people.

Hondurans endure extraordinary levels of violence regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gang violence abounds – in some cases Human Rights Watch investigated, LGBT victims may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in other instances, violence appears targeted. Shakira, a trans woman also known by her nickname La Loba (the Wolf), was killed on June 9 in Choloma, 10 miles north of San Pedro Sula. A person who saw Shakira’s body told me her face was mutilated with a rock, her penis was cut off, and a note was left by her body that said, “[this] is the first one, two more to go.”

In the face of such violence, a pride march is an act of defiance.

Burundi “A general climate of impunity” – the latest UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi Report

Opinio Juris - Monday, September 9, 2019
On 4 September last week the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi released its latest report. The situation in Burundi continues to warrant deep concern as grave human rights violations persist. Experts estimate that it may only get worse as the 2020 elections draw closer. After all, it was a political crisis in 2015 election cycle that catapulted the small...

Libya and International Justice Symposium

Opinio Juris - Monday, September 9, 2019
[Mark Kersten is a consultant for the Wayamo Foundation and a law student at McGill University. He is also author of the book, ‘Justice in Conflict – The Effects of the International Criminal Court’s Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace’.]  It isn’t for a lack of attention. Violence in Libya is covered almost daily in major newspapers and media...

Algeria: Tightening the Screws on Protests

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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On July 5 2019, thousands of people protested for a twentieth consecutive week in Algeria's capital, defying a major police presence just days before the mandate of interim president Bensalah expires. 

© AFP/Getty Images Algeria’s authorities have jailed dozens of people for peaceful protests in the six months since the beginning of a wave of street demonstrations that forced the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities have arrested people for peacefully carrying a flag or a protest sign. They jailed a veteran of the independence war for criticizing the army, shut down meetings by political and other nongovernmental groups, and blocked a major news website. While large street protests have continued every Friday, police forces have deployed massively in Algiers’ central streets and squares and at checkpoints, effectively limiting the number of people who can reach the march, and then tightly controlling those who do.

“The Algerian authorities initially tolerated the protests by millions of people that began in February to demand political reform,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But Algeria’s authorities are now turning the vise, jailing flag-wavers and turning back would-be marchers.”

After President Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah replaced him, pending new elections, as provided by the constitution. The authorities set a new presidential election for July 4, but then postponed it to an undetermined date after pressure from street protesters, who demand a democratic transition before holding presidential elections. Popular slogans during the marches demand the resignations of Bensalah and of Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, among others.

Since the resignation of Bouteflika, one of his high-level appointees, Ahmed Gaid Salah, 79, the army chief of staff and deputy defense minister, has widely been considered Algeria’s new strongman. On August 26, Gaid Salah rejected the protesters’ demand for a transitional structure and phase and urged the authorities to organize a presidential election “as soon as possible.”

Since April, Gaid Salah has warned of “foreign parties” seeking to “infiltrate demonstrations” and “destabilize Algeria.” On June 19, he gave a public speech in which he accused “a small minority of people who bear other flags [than the Algerian flag]” of “infiltrating the protests.”

Starting June 21, security forces began large-scale arrests throughout the country, targeting marchers with Amazigh flags, a symbol of the large ethnic community of the same name, also known as Berbers. About 40 protesters remain in custody, most in Algiers. All are under investigation for “harming the integrity of the national territory,” which carries sentences of up to 10 years in prison, under penal code Article 79.

Waving a flag of an ethnic community is an act of peaceful expression protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified in 1989, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Algeria should free and drop charges against anyone arrested for possessing or waving a flag, Human Rights Watch said.

On July 9, a first instance court near Algiers sentenced Mouaffak Serdouk, a 40-year-old supporter of Algeria’s football team, to a year in prison for “publicly displaying a paper that can harm the national interest.” He had been deported from Egypt two weeks earlier, after Egyptian authorities arrested him in Cairo. He had stood near a stadium where the Algeria team was playing a football match, carrying a sign encouraging a change in administrations in Algeria. He is in prison in Algiers and has appealed his conviction.

On June 30, police arrested 87-year old Lakhdar Bouregaa, a prominent veteran of Algeria’s independence war, at his home in Algiers, four days after he said at a public meeting, later broadcast on YouTube, that Algeria’s army is a collection of “militias.”

A prosecutor referred his case to an investigative judge, who opened an investigation for “weakening the morale of the army,” which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Bouregaa, one of the few surviving commanders of the war of independence, has supported the street protests since they started in February. He has participated in several demonstrations, and severely criticized the country’s interim leaders.

On August 27, local authorities forbade a series of meetings planned near the city of Bejaia by the Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (RAJ), a group active in pro-democracy protests since they started. The authorities did not explain their decision, RAJ president Abdelouhab Fersaoui told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

On September 5, local authorities arrested over 20 pro-democracy and human rights activists who were planning to hold a RAJ meeting in a public square in Bejaia. They were freed about 3 hours later, and the meeting could not take place.

On August 27, without explanation, the authorities ordered three opposition parties to cancel a planned joint meeting in Algiers the next day. The parties, the Socialist Forces Front, the Rally for Culture and Democracy, and the Labour Party, are members of the Forces of the Democratic Alternative, a political alliance created to back the protesters’ call for a democratic transition. The meeting was to be the alliance’s inaugural gathering.

Since June 12, Tout Sur l’Algérie (TSA), one of the country’s top independent news websites, has been inaccessible most of the time inside Algeria, except for those who use a virtual private network connection. TSA Director Hamid Guemache told Human Rights Watch during a meeting in Algiers on August 5: “This is an arbitrary block ordered by the authorities. We tried to contact the government to get explanations, but they refused to answer our questions. This blockage is a serious threat to our survival as an independent website.”

TSA has extensively covered the street protest movement, including the protesters’ criticism of the army in general, and Gaid Salah in particular.

Since the first protests in February, security forces have tolerated large gatherings in public spaces on Fridays, the day during which the biggest demonstrations are organized weekly. However, security forces tightly control crowds that assemble on other days.

On August 6, a Tuesday, Human Rights Watch witnessed hundreds of security men equipped with anti-riot gear circling a crowd of protesters in central Algiers and progressively pushing it out of Place de La Grande Poste, breaking the crowd into smaller and smaller groups until the protest dissolved about one hour after it started.

On Fridays, security forces install checkpoints at various approaches to the capital, significantly slowing down drivers who want to reach the protest sites. Several people told Human Rights Watch that security forces prevented most vehicles from entering the capital during most of the day, until the protests had died down. During Friday protests, authorities also suspend subway service in Algiers and close tramway, train, and bus stations near the protest sites.

On August 19, Algerian authorities detained a Human Rights Watch employee, Ahmed Benchemsi, as he was observing the Friday march on Didouche Mourad Avenue in downtown Algiers. The authorities detained him for 10 hours and seized his passports, holding them for 10 days without notifying him of any charge, then deported him. According to Reporters Without Borders, several foreign journalists have been deported since April, including the director of the AFP bureau in Algiers and correspondents of Reuters and TRT, a Turkish state-owned broadcaster.

“As authorities violate rights and intensify their crackdown on dissent, protesters are starting to prepare for bigger marches in September,” Fakih said. “The authorities should step back and grant the Algerian people the freedoms of expression and assembly they are entitled to.”

In Prison for Waving a Flag

About 40 protesters remain in jail after security forces arrested them in Algiers, Annaba, Chlef, and other Algerian cities, most of them on June 21 and 28, because they were waving or carrying Amazigh flags. More than 30 of them are being held in Algiers, based on estimates by Abderrahmane Salah, a lawyer representing many of the protesters and also the secretary general of the Network of Human Rights Lawyers, an Algerian nongovernmental group.

Investigative judges placed them under investigation for “harming the integrity of the national territory,” an offense punishable by a prison term of between one and ten years, under penal code Article 79.

Under the code of penal procedure, investigative judges’ inquiries can last up to four months, renewable twice, after which the suspects should be freed or sent to trial.

On June 19, Gaid Salah, the army chief of staff, said in a speech in the southwestern city of Bechar: “Algeria has only one flag that represents its sovereignty, its independence, and its territorial integrity … Orders were given to security forces to firmly enforce the law and counter all those who will try again to harm the feelings of the Algerian people on this sensitive question.”

Gaid Salah didn’t specify which law he was referring to. A couple days after the speech, police forces started to arrest people holding Amazigh flags across the country.

Carrying Amazigh flags and pro-Amazigh activism have been commonplace in Algeria since the early 1980s. Some activists focus on promoting Amazigh culture, while some demand greater political autonomy for the Kabyle-majority regions, and others advocate independence. Although demands for autonomy or independence have been contentious, Algerian authorities have not in recent years treated carrying an Amazigh flag as a crime.

On August 8, a judge in the eastern city of Annaba acquitted Nadir Fertissi, a protester, on the charge of “harming the integrity of the national territory” and ordered the police to return to him two Amazigh flags they seized when they arrested him on July 5. Fertissi spent one month in pretrial detention.

Jailed for a Sign

On June 23, Egyptian police arrested Mouaffak Serdouk, a 40-year-old Algerian supporter of Algeria’s football team, in Cairo, outside of a stadium where Algeria was playing in the African Cup of Nations tournament. Serdouk was carrying a sign with the slogan “No God but God; Yetnehaw Ga’.” The second part of the slogan, which means “They Must All Leave” in Algerian dialect, is a trademark slogan of Algeria’s current protest movement, and refers to top officials under former president Bouteflika who are believed to retain effective power.

Egyptian authorities held Serdouk for two days then forcibly expelled him on June 25. Algerian police arrested Serdouk when he landed in Algiers and referred him to the prosecutor of Dar El Bayda, the district that includes the airport.

On July 9, a court sentenced him to one year in prison for “publicly displaying a paper that can harm the national interest,” under Article 96 of the penal code. Serdouk filed an appeal, but the date for the appeals trial is yet to be set.

Serdouk’s conviction violates his right to freedom of expression. The article under which he was convicted, moreover, violates a fundamental requirement under human rights law that criminal laws should define offenses with sufficient precision for people to reasonably predict when they are violating those laws.

War Veteran Jailed for Peaceful Comments

Since he was arrested in Algiers on June 30, Lakhdar Bouregaa, a prominent veteran of the war of independence, has remained in custody, under investigation for “weakening the morale of the army during peacetime in order to harm national defense,” which Article 75 of the penal code punishes with a prison term of 5 to 10 years.

On June 26, during a meeting organized by a coalition of political parties in Algiers, Bouregaa said that Algeria’s army is a collection of “militias” created to serve “the 1962 regime” rather than “the offspring of the National Liberation Army.” His comment came in the context of longstanding disputes over the legacy of various factions within the rebel army that won independence for Algeria from France in 1962.

The criminal investigation is based chiefly on this comment, one of Bouregaa’s lawyers, Abderrahmane Salah, told Human Rights Watch. On July 4, the accusation chamber at the Court of Algiers refused to release Bouregaa on bail. He remains in prison pending completion of the judge’s investigation, which can take up to one year before the court must provisionally release him.

Bouregaa is one of the few surviving commanders of the National Liberation Army. He is a founder of the opposition Socialist Forces Front party and was a political prisoner in the 1970s under President Houari Boumedienne. His frequent media appearances make Bouregaa a familiar figure to Algerians, some of whom call him “Uncle Lakhdar.” On August 2 and again on August 6, a Human Rights Watch researcher heard crowds of demonstrators in Algiers chanting “Free Bouregaa!” Similar slogans were chanted in street protests in Algiers on August 30.

Leading News Site Blocked, Targeted

On June 12, Tout Sur l’Algerie, a leading independent news site in Algeria, announced that its IP addresses were blocked. Since then, the news website’s staff has run several technical tests and observed that, while the website was inaccessible within Algeria, except for short and random periods of accessibility, it was accessible without interruption for users outside Algeria and those using a VPN address, which allows them to connect to the national internet network from a foreign IP address.

Their communiqué denounced the blockage as an “act of censorship against independent media,” adding that “the old practices of the authorities have not stopped.”

TSA, one of the few websites that were openly critical of then-President Bouteflika and his administration, encountered similar obstructions in 2017. On October 5 of that year, its managers observed that the site was inaccessible on Algérie Telecom and Mobilis, two internet providers owned by the government, but still accessible on private networks. Twenty days later, then-Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia answered a question on the partial blockage of the news website by saying that the site managers should “contact their (hosting service) provider to determine the cause of the breakdown.” In December 2017, the site was accessible again from those two networks.

TSA Director Hamid Guemache told Human Rights Watch on August 5 that his website receives no advertising from the State-controlled ANEP agency, which has a monopoly on advertising spending by state-owned companies. ANEP controls a considerable part of the advertisement market in Algeria, Guemache said.

Morocco: Trial Over Private Life Allegations

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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Hajar Raissouni (Via Facebook)

 

(Tunis, September 9, 2019) – The Moroccan authorities’ prosecution and jailing of a journalist on charges of having an abortion and sex outside of marriage flagrantly violate her rights to privacy, liberty, and numerous other rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should drop the charges and release her immediately.

Police in Rabat arrested Hajar Raissouni, 28, on August 31, 2019, and interrogated her about her intimate life. Two days later a prosecutor charged her with having an abortion and sex outside marriage, and a judge ordered her detained. Her trial is set to start on September 9. She faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

“Hajar Raissouni is being charged for alleged private behavior that shouldn’t be criminalized in the first place,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications director at Human Rights Watch. “Moreover, by publicizing detailed allegations about her sexual and reproductive life, authorities trampled on her right to privacy and apparently sought to smear her reputation.”

In the same case, police forces arrested Raissouni’s fiancé, Sudanese scholar Rifaat Al-Amin; the doctor who is accused of having performed the abortion; and two of his aides. Al-Amin is charged with complicity in abortion and sex outside marriage, and faces up to two years in prison. The doctor and his aides are charged with performing an abortion and complicity in abortion, and face up to 10 years in prison.

At about 11:30 a.m. on August 31, six policemen in civilian clothes arrested Raissouni and Al-Amin on a street in Rabat’s Agdal neighborhood, near an obstetrics-gynecology office where Raissouni was a registered patient. The police took them to the office, where they arrested a doctor and two aides, then transported the five to a police station in Rabat for interrogation, Saad Sahli, a lawyer for Raissouni and Al-Amin, told Human Rights Watch.

The police took Raissouni later that day to Rabat’s Ibn Sina hospital, where staff subjected her to a gynecological examination without her consent, one of her lawyers, Mohamed Sadkou, told Human Rights Watch. Such examinations, when performed without the person’s consent, amount to cruel and degrading treatment under international human rights standards.

Raissouni was kept in detention at the police station for 48 hours, during which the police asked her invasive questions about her intimate life, and about whether she had an abortion.

On September 2, Raissouni was taken before a prosecutor in Rabat’s Court of First Instance and then charged with having an illegal abortion and sexual relations outside marriage, offenses punishable respectively by up to two years and one year in prison, under articles 454 and 490 of the penal code. The same day, a judge in the same court refused her petition for pretrial release, set the trial to September 9, and sent her to Al Arjat prison in Salé, a town near Rabat.

The court also rejected pretrial release for Al-Amin, the doctor and his two aides, who are in Al Arjat prison pending the September 9 trial. Al-Amin is accused of sex outside marriage and complicity in abortion under articles 490, 129 and 454 of the penal code, and could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. The doctor and his aides are accused of performing or complicity in performing an abortion, under articles 449, 450 and 451, and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

On September 5, Abdeslam Al-Imani, a prosecutor in Rabat, issued a communiqué, widely distributed to the media, detailing the allegations against Raissouni. The communiqué included deeply personal details pertaining to her sexual and reproductive health, in violation of her right to privacy.

The prosecutor’s communiqué stated that Raissouni’s arrest was “not connected in any way” to her being a journalist, and happened “incidentally,” after she visited a medical office that was “under surveillance because the judicial police had received reports that abortions were routinely conducted there.”

However, in a “letter from prison” published by Al Yaoum 24, a website associated with Akhbar Al Yaoum, the daily for which Raissouni works, she says the police asked several questions about her work as a journalist, and her relatives, including a prominent religious scholar and the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al Yaoum. She also said that police interrogators asked specific questions about her relations with her fiancé that revealed to her that the couple had been under surveillance.

Akhbar Al Yaoum is one of the country’s few remaining critical newspapers. The authorities have taken severe measures against it several times since its creation in 2009. In 2018, a Casablanca court sentenced Taoufik Bouachrine, the daily’s founder and publisher, to 12 years in prison on charges of aggravated sexual assault in a trial that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded was marred by due-process violations. Akhbar Al Yaoum extensively covered the trial of protest leaders in the Rif region of Morocco, who were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, largely based on statements that they said were made under police torture.

Raissouni is a member of a well-known dissident family. Her uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, a leading Islamist thinker, is the president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, a theological organization based in Qatar. Another uncle, Suleiman Raissouni, is the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al Yaoum and is known for his critical columns. Her cousin Youssef Raissouni is the secretary general of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, the country’s biggest independent human rights organization, which has a long history of being targeted by the government.

According to Chafik Chraibi, president of the Moroccan Association to Combat Clandestine Abortions, between 600 and 800 clandestine abortions a day take place on average in Morocco, about two- thirds of them by licensed doctors. Chraibi told Human Rights Watch that abortion-related arrests usually involve the practitioners but almost never the patients.

Authoritative interpretations of international law have determined that countries that, like Morocco, deny access to legal abortion endanger numerous human rights, including to life;, health;, freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment;, and privacy. Human Rights Watch research in countries that criminalize abortion has shown that it drives women and girls to have clandestine abortions that can risk their health and lives. Human Rights Watch believes that decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman without interference by the state or others.

Morocco should also decriminalize consensual sexual relations among adults outside of marriage, in respect for the right to privacy as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified.

“Morocco’s arrest, prosecution, and brutal violation of Hajar Raissouni’s private life illustrate the country’s lack of respect of individual freedoms, and apparently the selective enforcement of unjust laws to punish critical journalism and activism,” Benchemsi said. “Raissouni and all her co-defendants should be freed immediately, and all charges against them dropped.”

 

 

 

Europe’s Opportunity to Ban a Dangerous Pesticide

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 9, 2019
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An external view of the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) headquarters in Parma, Italy, February 16, 2018.

© 2018 ANSA via AP Images

In several European countries, pregnant mothers risk consuming food contaminated with the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxin that could be harmful to their unborn children.

Last month, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated that the pesticide does not meet the safety criteria for renewed approval by the European Union. The agency joins eight EU member states and a growing number of children’s rights and environmental advocacy groups around the world pushing back against the use of this dangerous chemical.

Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide commonly used on food crops, has garnered international media attention in recent months due to its links to neurotoxic health issues. The pesticide belongs to a class of chemicals called organophosphates – a group of compounds that alter the structure and function of the human nervous system. Scientists have coupled chlorpyrifos exposure with neurodevelopmental challenges, as well as an array of symptoms including dizziness, confusion, respiratory paralysis, and even death. Many of these outcomes are particularly hazardous to children because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing – and because they may absorb toxic chemicals more easily than adults.

The EFSA’s finding that there does not exist a safe exposure level for chlorpyrifos comes at a critical time. The approval period for chlorpyrifos use in the EU expires in January 2020 and the manufacturer’s application to renew this approval is currently under review by the European Commission.

Earlier in July, the United States missed a similarly critical opportunity to protect public health when the Trump administration ruled against enacting a 2015 EPA proposal to ban chlorpyrifos. Still, environmental and public health advocates in the US are rallying, particularly at the state and local levels. Most recently, Human Rights Watch joined over 80 organizations in signing a letter urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve a bill banning chlorpyrifos in New York state.

Come January, the EU has an opportunity to act where the US has failed. Failure to protect against known dangerous pesticide exposures violates the right to health. EU officials should seek to better protect Europeans’ health – and uphold human rights – by not renewing the approval of this neurotoxic pesticide.

Events and Announcements: September 7, 2019

Opinio Juris - Saturday, September 7, 2019
Announcements I am delighted to announce that CUP has recently published Freya Baetens’ new book, Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication. Here’s the publisher’s description: International courts and tribunals differ in their institutional composition and functions, but a shared characteristic is their reliance on the contribution of individuals other than the judicial decision-makers themselves. Such ‘unseen actors’ may take...

Myanmar: Civilians Caught in Shan State Fighting

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, September 7, 2019
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Soldiers walk over the Goktwin bridge, damaged by an explosion, in Nawnghkio, northern Shan State, Myanmar, August 15, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo

(New York) – Myanmar’s armed forces and the three ethnic armed groups fighting in northern Shan State should safeguard civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Renewed fighting since August 15, 2019 has resulted in the deaths of at least 17 civilians and injured 27, many of them women and children, according to the United Nations.

Approximately 7,500 people were displaced by the fighting in August, and 3,500 remain in temporary shelters. Nongovernmental groups have told Human Rights Watch that armed forces on both sides have stopped humanitarian aid convoys from traveling to affected populations, resulting in shortages of food and medicine.

“Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups should recognize that protecting civilians is a core obligation of the laws of war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “All sides to the conflict should cease unlawful attacks against civilians and ensure that aid reaches people in need.”

Since independence in 1948, the Myanmar government has been engaged in numerous armed conflicts with ethnic armed groups across the country. Four of those armed groups, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Arakan Army, and Kachin Independence Army, have allied into a coalition called the Northern Alliance.

The recent hostilities began on August 15 after the Northern Alliance forces, minus the Kachin Independence Army, carried out coordinated attacks on military targets and civilian structures in Lashio, Nawnghkio, and Pyin Oo Lwin, near Mandalay.

The attacks killed seven security personnel at a guard post at the Goktwin bridge in Nawnghkio, an important trade route into China, and three security personnel at a military training institution, the Defense Services Technological Academy, in Pyin Oo Lwin.

The Myanmar military quickly counterattacked, with the heaviest fighting near the town of Kutkai close to the China border, and across northeastern Lashio township. The conflict has spread across the main Lashio-Muse highway and is affecting civilians in Lashio, Hseni, Kutkai, Kyaukme, Nawnghkio, and Muse townships.

On August 17, a rescue worker was killed and others traveling in an ambulance outside of Lashio were wounded when they came under attack from sniper fire and a rocket-propelled grenade. A survivor of the attack told Reuters that Northern Alliance fighters were responsible. The laws of war prohibit attacks on ambulances and other medical transport unless they are being used for military purposes.

On August 31, five civilians, three of them children, were killed in Kutkai after heavy shelling between the Myanmar military and Northern Alliance forces. Two others were wounded when a mortar shell hit their home. No side has claimed responsibility for these attacks, and each side has blamed the other.

The Myanmar military reportedly launched a helicopter attack in Kutkai township on September 2, causing heavy damage to a monastery and some civilian property. Civilians from the villages of Man Htan and Hui Khut fled to monasteries in Kutkai town.

A group of 346 nongovernmental organizations condemned the fighting in a statement on September 3, demanding an immediate end to attacks on civilians. On September 4, the acting UN resident coordinator in Myanmar, June Kunugi, issued a statement that at least 17 civilians had been killed in the recent fighting in northern Shan State.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, require the parties to a conflict to take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and “take all feasible precautions” to minimize incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects. All warring parties are prohibited from deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. Indiscriminate attacks are attacks that strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. An attack is disproportionate if it could be expected to cause civilian loss greater than the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack. Explosive weapons with wide area effects, such as artillery and mortar shells, should be avoided in populated areas due to the foreseeable harm to civilians.

The fighting as well as transportation restrictions on roads have prevented humanitarian aid from reaching civilians at risk. A nongovernmental group based in Kutkai told Human Rights Watch that only local donations from community members were being distributed in camps and monasteries where internally displaced people have taken shelter. They said no aid from international humanitarian agencies had yet reached them.

A September 4 social media post by a local news outlet reported that the Kutkai hospital was running out of medicine but had managed to distribute out-of-date drugs to internally displaced people needing medical care. The same day, fighting northeast of Lashio in the Mong Yaw area displaced about 17 households.

Under the laws of war, parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not interfere with it arbitrarily. Parties must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity.

“It’s crucial that all sides to the conflict stop unnecessarily restricting the free movement of humanitarian agencies and civilians fleeing the fighting,” Adams said.

Thailand: Lao Refugee Feared ‘Disappeared’

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, September 7, 2019

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The Thai national flag flies against a stormy sky in Lampang, Thailand, July 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images (New York) – Thai authorities should urgently investigate the apparent enforced disappearance of Od Sayavong, a refugee from Laos and prominent critic of the Lao government, Human Rights Watch said today. Od, 34, was last seen at his house in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum district on August 26, 2019.

“The Thai government should immediately provide information on the whereabouts of outspoken Lao activist Od Sayavong,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Bangkok’s streets should be safe from abductions and wrongful arrests.”

Od’s colleagues filed a report with the Thai police on September 2. No progress in the investigation has been reported. On September 6, the Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich, denied knowledge of Od’s whereabouts.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about Od’s safety. He is affiliated with the “Free Lao” group, a loose network of Lao migrant workers and activists in exile based in Bangkok and neighboring provinces who peacefully advocate for human rights and democracy in Laos. Od and other group members have occasionally held peaceful protests outside the Lao embassy and the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok. They have also organized human rights workshops for Lao migrant workers in Thailand.

The Lao government has arbitrarily arrested and detained activists and those deemed critical of the government. The penal code effectively gives the authorities sweeping powers to prosecute dissidents. Harsh prison sentences range from up to 5 years for anti-government propaganda to 15 years for journalists who fail to file “constructive reports” or who seek to “obstruct” the work of the government.

In recent weeks, members of “Free Lao” told Human Rights Watch that they have been put under surveillance and intimidated by Thai and Lao authorities. They believe this is to stop them from protesting or otherwise criticizing the Lao government during the ASEAN People’s Forum, being held in Bangkok on September 10-12.

Thai authorities have frequently collaborated with foreign governments to harass, arbitrarily arrest, and forcibly return exiled dissidents in violation of international law. This has included people formally registered as persons of concern by the UN refugee agency. Some countries, including Laos, have allegedly reciprocated by turning a blind eye to the enforced disappearance and murder of Thai dissidents seeking asylum in their territory.

Enforced disappearances are defined under international laws the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Thailand is obligated to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance.

Thailand is also prohibited under international law from forcibly sending someone to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.

“The Thai government’s deference to abusive neighbors has once again appeared to have taken priority over its legal obligations,” Adams said. “Thailand needs to reestablish itself as a place where refugees are safe and stop assisting abusive countries by returning their dissidents.”

Russia/Ukraine Prisoner Exchange Includes Release of Oleg Sentsov

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, September 7, 2019

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Family members greet Oleg Sentsov at Boryspil airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, September 7, 2019

© 2019 Anastasia Magazova

After several increasingly tense weeks amid swirling rumors, a much-anticipated large-scale prisoner swap has finally happened between Russia and Ukraine. Among those who arrived in Kyiv this Saturday afternoon, newly released from Russian custody are 35 people. That number includes 11 Ukrainian prisoners – among them Edem Bekirov, Oleg Sentsov, Pavlo Hryb, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanislav Klykh, Mykola Karpyuk, Volodymyr Balukh, Roman Sushchenko - and 24 Ukrainian sailors, captured by Russia in November 2018. At around the same time, a plane with 35 Russian prisoners, released by Ukraine, landed in Moscow.

Let’s pause to celebrate. This long-awaited exchange is truly wonderful news for all those jailed for politically motivated reasons and who can now come home. Some who are gravely ill, like Edem Bekirov and Pavlo Hryb, can finally get urgently needed medical help. Others get to hug their families after years of separation.

Oleg Sentsov’s release is a momentous event for his family and supporters around the world, who have stood with him for the five years he has been unjustly jailed. For a long time, and up until the last moment, the Kremlin was not prepared to even discuss the possibility of Sentsov’s release, despite mounting international support for the Ukrainian filmmaker from Crimea. Russian authorities detained Sentsov in May 2014 and sentenced him to 20 years in jail on bogus terrorism charges in August 2015. In reality, Sentsov’s crime was speaking out against Russia’s occupation of Crimea and helping to deliver food and water to Ukrainian soldiers stranded at military bases in Crimea. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and in Crimea on politically motivated charges. In October 2018, he won the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's award for freedom of thought.

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Journalists and families of Ukrainian political prisoners waiting at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, September 7, 2019.

© 2019 Anastasia Magazova

Before the swap, Ukraine released RIA Novosti journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who was in pretrial detention facing dubious treason charges. Those charges should be dropped immediately. Journalists should not be jailed for their work.

Let’s also remember others who remain behind bars for their opposition to Russia’s role in the armed conflict in Ukraine. Many, like Sentsov, are from occupied Crimea. Since 2015, Russian authorities have prosecuted at least 63 Crimean Tatars, tainting them as “terrorists,” and handed down some horrendous sentences of up to 17 years. Many suffer in pretrial detention and some were tortured by Russian security officials trying to extract confessions.

There are also prisoners unlawfully held by fighters of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine. Among them are pro-Ukraine bloggers and journalists Stanyslav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk, and others.

They, too, should be freed.

Indonesia: Investigate Deaths of Papuan Protesters

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, September 7, 2019

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A number of residents gathered during a peaceful solidarity action for Papua and West Papua in the Zero Point Region of Yogyakarta Indonesia, Monday, September 2, 2019.

© 2019 Devi Rahman/INA Photo Agency/Sipa USA via AP Images (Sydney) – Indonesian authorities should impartially investigate the deaths of at least 10 Papuans during recent unrest in the easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, Human Rights Watch said today. Restrictions on access to Papua for foreign journalists and rights monitors and a partial internet shutdown have hindered reporting on the situation.

The Indonesian government should immediately allow unfettered access to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to travel to Papua to investigate the situation.

After video circulated of Indonesian militias racially abusing indigenous Papuan students outside their dormitory in Surabaya on August 17, 2019, Papuans demonstrated in at least 30 cities across Indonesia, including Jakarta. Rioting Papuans burned down the local parliament building in Manokwari and prisons in Sorong, West Papua province, and in Jayapura, Papua province.

“Indonesian police have a duty to avoid the use of force in response to Papuans who take their grievances to the streets,” said Elaine Pearson. “Any wrongful use of force needs to be investigated and those responsible held to account.”

The media have reported that Indonesian authorities have detained at least seven people in connection with raising the pro-Papuan independence Morning Star flag in Jakarta and Manokwari. Another 60 have been reportedly detained for allegedly damaging property during unrest in Papua. Those held for the peaceful expression of their political views should be released and any charges dropped, Human Rights Watch said. The rest of those detained should be promptly brought before a judge, charged with a recognizable offense, and have access to lawyers and family members.

Human Rights Watch urged prompt and impartial investigations into the following alleged incidents:

  • In Deiyai on August 28, video footage shows uniformed police shooting live ammunition into a crowd of Papuan protesters inside the Deiyai Regency office. The Secretariat of Peace and Justice, a Catholic human rights organization located in Paniai, Papua, reported that eight Papuans and one Indonesian soldier were killed and 39 Papuans were injured. The Deiyai regent, Ateng Edowai, said that “people in civilian clothes” were responsible for the shooting. No independent or foreign journalists have access to Deiyai to investigate the incident.
  • In Jayapura on September 1, video footage shows a mob of Indonesians, police, and soldiers armed with machetes surrounding a Papuan student dorm in the Abepura neighborhood. Indonesian militias began to attack the dormitory at about 2 a.m. Suara Papua, a local news website, reported that one Papuan student was stabbed to death and more than 20 were injured, of whom 13 were hospitalized.
  • A video taken in Fakfak, West Papua on August 20, shows a Papuan man who had been disemboweled and others were reportedly wounded.

On August 22, the Indonesian government shut down the internet in Papua and West Papua. On September 4, internet services were partially restored. Several places including Deiyai are still partially blocked, meaning it is not possible to share videos or photographs.

Local media reported that Indonesian militias in Jayapura attacked Papuans who had occupied the Papuan governor’s office and replaced the Indonesian flag with the Morning Star. The militia Paguyuban Nusantara (“Archipelago Community”) is a new alliance formed from several Indonesian ethnic groups, mostly from Java Island, who had settled in Papua and West Papua since the late 1970s under the government-sponsored transmigration program.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has condemned racist statements against Papuans and authorities have suspended four army officers for their racist remarks in Surabaya pending investigations. Authorities have charged one militia leader in Surabaya for spreading hate speech.

Since the demonstrations began, the government has granted limited access to several foreign journalists to visit specific Papuan cities, but they have been monitored and unable to travel beyond the cities where they were given entry permits. The Indonesian government has restricted access to foreign journalists since the 1960s because of suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals in a region racked by corruption, environmental degradation, public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small pro-independence insurgency.

On August 31, police arrested six activists, including five Papuan students in Jakarta and Surya Anta Ginting, the coordinator of the Front Rakyat Indonesia on West Papua, a solidarity group among Indonesian activists. They were charged with treason for flying the Morning Star flag outside the State Palace.

On September 3, police arrested an activist, Sayang Mandabayan, at the Manokwari airport for traveling with 1,500 small Morning Star flags. She has been detained at the Manokwari police station.

On September 4, Surabaya police issued an arrest warrant for Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer with “spreading fake news and provoking unrest.” Koman has shared videos on her Twitter account of the recent unrest.

On September 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern about the violence in Papua and urged the Indonesian government “to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua on their aspirations and concerns.” Despite President Jokowi’s invitation to the UN human rights chief to visit Papua in February 2018, government officials have continued to delay the visit.

Concerned governments should call on the Indonesian government to:

  • Promptly and impartially investigate unrest-related deaths and injuries and appropriately prosecute those responsible for wrongdoing.
  • Immediately restore full access to the internet, which is vital for emergency communications and basic information in times of crisis.
  • Lift restrictions on access for foreign journalists and rights monitors in line with previous statements by the Indonesian president.
  • Allow the UN human rights office immediate unfettered access to Papua. 
  • Drop charges and release all those detained for peaceful acts of free expression including Sayang Mandabayan. Drop the case against Veronica Koman.

Police should cease using unnecessary or excessive force against the protesters, Human Rights Watch said. While some protester action may warrant police use of force, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that all security forces shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.

“Governments concerned about the unrest and violence in Papua should press the Indonesian government to take prompt action to end the bloodshed, protect the rights of all, and allow full and open reporting of the situation,” Pearson said.

 

 

Bangladesh: Clampdown on Rohingya Refugees

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 6, 2019

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Rohingya refugees gather in an open field at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State on August 25, 2019. 

© 2019 K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images (New York) – The Bangladesh government should end restrictions on Rohingya refugees’ freedom of movement and access to the internet and online communications, Human Rights Watch said today. Government restrictions have intensified following a failed attempt to repatriate refugees to Myanmar, a large rally by Rohingya refugees, and the killings of a local politician and four refugees.

“Bangladesh authorities have a major challenge in dealing with such a large number of refugees, but they have made matters worse by imposing restrictions on refugee communications and freedom of movement,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The authorities should take a level-headed approach instead of overreacting to tensions and protests by isolating Rohingya refugees in camps.”

On September 1, 2019, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered telecommunication operators to shut down mobile phone services in the camps within seven days. The next day, the BTRC ordered mobile network operators to shut down 3G and 4G services in the camps each day between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. While the authorities say the shutdown is to enhance security, they have not explained how. The 13-hour daily shutdown puts approximately one million refugees at serious risk by cutting off communications with security, health, and other necessary services.

On September 4, Bangladesh’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense recommended building a security fence around the camps. A standing committee member, Muhammad Faruk Khan, said: “We have been observing the Rohingyas are freely moving around the camps and outside. Therefore, to ensure security we recommended taking measures so that no one can come out of the camps and no one can enter inside the camps.”

While the authorities have a duty to protect camp residents, security measures should not infringe upon their right to freedom of movement outside the camps. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has recognized that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a party, applies “without discrimination between citizens and aliens,” including refugees. The committee noted that, “Aliens have the full right to liberty and security of the person.... They have the right to liberty of movement.”

The government actions appear to be in response to recent incidents involving the Rohingya refugees. A highly publicized attempt by the Bangladesh government to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on August 22 failed because the refugees believe that the current conditions in Myanmar make their return unsafe. That day, alleged Rohingya refugees killed Omar Faruk, 30, a local leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth wing in Teknaf. Law enforcement officers then killed four Rohingya refugees who they said were involved in the murder. Police claim the Rohingya were killed in “crossfire,” a phrase often used by security forces in Bangladesh in cases of extrajudicial execution.

The authorities and some local leaders in Cox’s Bazar also expressed alarm after a massive demonstration in Kutupalong camp on August 25, the two-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State that caused a mass exodus of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. The government suspended three officials, including the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, from Cox’s Bazar for allowing the refugees to organize such a large gathering. The government also banned certain nongovernmental aid organizations from working in the camps, including the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and an Islamic aid organization, Al Markazul Islami, for allegedly supporting the August 25 rally, including by providing refugees with T-shirts for the event. Two foreign aid workers were given notice to leave the country.

The Bangladesh government has increased the military presence in the camps to protect law and order. But refugees said the authorities were harassing them instead, particularly the organizers of the August 25 rally. One Rohingya activist told Human Rights Watch that previously, refugees would be eager to help police provide security in the camps. “But now the protectors are turning cruel just because we gathered on August 25,” he said. “Some of our people are being interrogated by [intelligence] agencies continuously regarding that gathering. But we gathered there with intention to call the Myanmar government to sit with us, not to make the Bangladesh government anxious.”

“Bangladesh authorities and the local community are understandably frustrated that there is no end in sight to the Rohingya refugee crisis,” Adams said. “But they should direct their ire at the Myanmar army and government, which caused the problem, instead of taking it out on refugees.”

Gates Open on Ethiopia’s Infamous Maekelawi Jail

Human Rights Watch - Friday, September 6, 2019
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People visit Ethiopia's infamous Maekelawi prison which was transformed into a gallery in Addis Ababa, September 6, 2019.

© 2019 Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Today, Maekelawi, the infamous police station in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, was opened for the first time to the public. For years, Maekelawi has been synonymous with abuse and repression. It stopped being operational last year soon after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, took office.

Many of those detained in Maekelawi were political prisoners – arrested for their perceived political views or journalism work. The fate of those sent to Maekelawi – except for the more high-profile detainees – was largely unknown to the outside world. Opening up its gates and offering the public a glimpse of its brutal reality may help some former detainees deal with the trauma they endured.  

During research on abuses in Maekelawi for a 2014 report, I spoke to Badessa (not his real name), a 22-year-old ethnic Oromo whose life was turned upside down when one day the authorities snatched him from his university dorm and drove him hundreds of kilometers to Addis Ababa.

He was locked up for eight months in Maekelawi. His parents were never informed of his whereabouts. He was never charged or given access to a lawyer, and never appeared before a court. During his detention, Badessa was abused and shackled for several months in solitary confinement. “When I wanted to stand up it was hard,” he said. “I had to use my head, legs, and the walls to stand up. I was still chained when I was eating.” He was ultimately released on condition that he would work for the government.

Badessa and other former detainees subjected to mistreatment told us that their inability to seek redress, including limited psychological support, prolonged their suffering and made it harder for them to move on.

Opening up Maekelawi offers Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed the opportunity to spell out the measures he plans on taking to bring to justice those responsible for torture and other serious abuses and to provide redress for the victims. Badessa and other Maekelawi survivors are entitled to nothing less.  

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