IHRP external news feeds

Cambodia: Activists Charged for Participating in Memorial

Human Rights Watch - Friday, July 12, 2019

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Kong Raya outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. 

© 2019 VOD/Khan Leakhena (New York) – Cambodian authorities should drop all charges and release people arrested for commemorating the third anniversary of the killing of the political commentator Kem Ley, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 10, 2016, the prominent critic of the government was fatally shot in broad daylight at a gas station in central Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government should revoke all restrictions on gatherings and other activities commemorating Kem Ley’s death and permit an independent investigation into the killing.

“The brazen daylight murder of Kem Ley three years ago sent shock waves throughout Cambodia that propelled tens of thousands of supporters to march from Phnom Penh to his home province of Takeo,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of permitting an independent investigation of allegations that this was a state-sponsored killing, the government has broken up commemorations and arrested activists.”

On July 9, 2019, Phnom Penh police arrested a student activist, Kong Raya, his wife, sister, and brother-in-law for printing T-shirts in Kem Ley’s memory and selling them on Facebook. The latter three were released after being forced to sign a “confession” that they would not repeat the act – a requirement that Cambodian authorities frequently impose on released activists. On July 11, Raya was charged with incitement and sent to pretrial detention at Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 1 (CC1). In August 2015, Raya had been convicted of “incitement to commit a felony” for a Facebook post in which he called for a so-called “color revolution.”

On July 10, a group of Kem Ley supporters gathered at the Caltex gas station where Kem Ley was killed in 2016. About 50 members of various security forces surrounded them and prevented them from laying floral wreaths or drinking coffee at the station while wearing T-shirts depicting Kem Ley. Those wearing shirts were required to take them off or place other garments over them. The police arrested Soung Neak Poan, a student activist who had distributed posters calling for an end to extrajudicial killings. Soung Neak Poan refused to sign a pledge not to distribute posters. On July 12, Soung Neak Poan was charged with incitement to commit a felony and sent to pretrial detention at CC1.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) reported that security forces would not allow activists from Phnom Penh’s evicted Boeung Kak lake community to enter the gas station. Also that day, about 40 police officers in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party as they were heading to Takeo province to commemorate Kem Ley’s death.

Police also monitored, disrupted, or canceled commemorations in other parts of the country, including Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kandal, Battambang, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng, and Tboung Khmum.

Following Kem Ley’s murder in 2016, the authorities arrested a former soldier, Oeuth Ang, who identified himself as “Choub Samlab” (“Meet to Kill”). On March 23, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted him after a half-day trial of premeditated murder and illegal possession of a firearm and sentenced him to life in prison. The trial was widely criticized as falling short of international fair trial standards and for not providing clarity about who killed Kem Ley or who ordered the killing.

Kem Ley was killed amid a government crackdown on nongovernmental organizations, independent media, and the political opposition.

“Cambodia’s donors should call for the release of anyone charged for peaceful protests and renew demands for an independent investigation into Kem Ley’s killing,” Adams said. “A government with nothing to hide should allow this or expect to see protests every year on the anniversary of this atrocity.”

Afghanistan: Special Forces Raid Medical Clinic

Human Rights Watch - Friday, July 12, 2019

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Afghan special forces attend their graduation ceremony after a 6-month training program in Kabul.

© 2018 Rahmat Gul/AP Photo (Kabul) – Afghan special forces raided a medical clinic in Wardak province on the night of July 8-9, 2019, and executed four civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Afghan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the attack and appropriately prosecute those responsible.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces entered the clinic in the Day Mirdad district. They killed a family caregiver and then detained and bound staff and family members accompanying patients. They then separated four people for questioning – the clinic’s director, a lab worker, a guard, and a family caregiver. All except the director were later found dead from gunshots. Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on medical facilities and the summary killing of civilians or incapacitated combatants are war crimes.

“Attacks on medical facilities challenge the very foundations of the laws of war, and will persist if those responsible go unpunished,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “It’s imperative for the Afghan government to prosecute the commanders who ordered the killings as well as the soldiers who pulled the trigger.” It’s imperative for the Afghan government to prosecute the commanders who ordered the killings as well as the soldiers who pulled the trigger. Patricia Gossman

Associate Asia Director

A member of the local health council told Human Rights Watch that at about 9 p.m. on July 8, he heard helicopters and knew a raid was underway. At 5 a.m., he and others from the health council went to the clinic and found the guard’s room shattered by a rocket that had left a crater.

A clinic staff member said that the special forces tied the hands of all the staff and visiting family caregivers and took them to one room, where they questioned them about whereabouts of the Taliban. Then they took four men with them, including the clinic’s director, Dr. Wahidullah, and told the remaining staff to stay in the room.

After the special forces unit had left, local villagers discovered the bodies of the three men who had been taken for questioning. The villagers were unable to locate Dr. Wahidullah, whom they believed the forces may have detained. The body of the other family caregiver was also found on the premises.

On July 11, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), a humanitarian organization that runs the clinic, described the incident as a “shocking violation” of international humanitarian law and said that “such outrageous use of force against civilians and health facilities constitutes a serious violation of applicable international humanitarian law and it affects provision of health services delivery to the people in the local community.” The clinic treats everyone, regardless of their political affiliation.

Afghan security forces had previously targeted the Day Mirdad clinic. On February 17, 2016, an Afghan special forces unit accompanied by international forces raided the facility, dragging away two patients and an 11-year-old child who was accompanying an adult patient, and shot dead all three outside the hospital premises.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, hospitals and other medical facilities are protected from attack unless they are being used for acts harmful to the enemy. Such acts do not include treating wounded and sick combatants. Even if a medical facility is being used to carry out harmful acts, such as to store weapons or as a headquarters, a warning with a reasonable time limit needs to be given before the hospital can be attacked.

The laws of war also protect medical workers and patients from attack. Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which is applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, states that:

[P]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed “hors de combat” by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.... [P]rohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons [is] violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds.

Summary killings of individuals in custody are war crimes. Commanders who order or otherwise assist, facilitate, aid, or abet the commission of a war crime can also be criminally liable. Governments have an obligation to investigate and appropriately prosecute alleged war crimes by members of their forces.

Night raids by Afghan special forces have increased sharply in 2019. In its April update on civilian casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted that most search operations resulting in civilian casualties were attributed to either the National Directorate of Security Special Forces or other special forces units. These units operate largely outside the normal military chain of command and are supported by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) units.

UNAMA has also noted a recent increase in attacks that have resulted in the death of health workers at facilities run by nongovernmental organizations in contested areas.

“US forces who directly support Afghan special forces – whether military or intelligence – may also bear responsibility for abuses carried out by these units,” Gossman said. “The US government should investigate its involvement in operations that target protected facilities or otherwise violate the laws of war.”

 

Of Statelessness, Detention Camps and Deportations: India and the “National Register of Citizens” in Assam

Opinio Juris - Friday, July 12, 2019
While much of the world is aghast and transfixed by the migrant detention camps in the U.S., there is another dire human rights and humanitarian crisis brewing and about to reach its zenith in the Indian state of Assam on 31 July 2019. A legal process is underway – updating the “National Register of Citizens” – that threatens to dispossess...

Crimean Tatars Face Unfounded Terrorism Charges

Human Rights Watch - Friday, July 12, 2019

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Crimean Tatar activists protest politically motivated arrests of terrorism charges in Moscow’s Red Square on July 10, 2019, with posters saying “The Fight with Terrorism in Crimea is a Fight against Dissent”; “Stop Ethnic and Religious Repression in Crimea”; and “Our Children Aren’t Terrorists.” 

© 2019 Alexandra Krylenkova

(Berlin) – Russian authorities have brought unfounded terrorism charges against 24 Crimean Tatars, 20 of whom were arrested during heavily armed raids on their homes in the spring of this year, Human Rights Watch said today. Security officers tortured four of the men, denied lawyers access to search sites, planted evidence, and later briefly detained two activists who spoke out on behalf of the arrested men.

Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. Many openly oppose Russia’s occupation, which began in 2014.The crackdown in the spring of 2019 is the latest in a pattern of repression to smear peaceful activists as terrorists and to stifle dissent in occupied Crimea. Russian authorities should release the activists and stop misusing the country’s overly broad counterterrorism legislation to stifle freedom of opinion, expression, and religion.

“Russian authorities seek to portray Crimean Tatars who oppose Russia’s occupation as ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists,’” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities in Crimea are using terrorism charges as a convenient tool of repression.”

July 12, 2019 Video Video: Crimean Tatars Face Unfounded Terrorism Charges

Russian authorities have brought unfounded terrorism charges against 24 Crimean Tatars, 20 of whom were arrested during heavily armed raids on their homes in the spring of this year, Human Rights Watch said today. Security officers tortured four of the men, denied lawyers access to search sites, planted evidence, and later briefly detained two activists who spoke out on behalf of the arrested men.

Human Rights Watch visited Crimea from May 17 to 20 and interviewed 16 relatives of 9 of those arrested, 5 lawyers representing some of them, and a leading activist with Crimean Solidarity, which provides aid to families of individuals arrested on politically motivated charges. Human Rights Watch also examined some legal documents and seven search sites, including the places where banned books or brochures had been allegedly planted. One lawyer, who is based in Moscow, was interviewed by phone.

Most of the 24 men arrested were active in Crimean Solidarity, a loose association of human rights lawyers, relatives, and supporters of victims of political repression. All have been charged with association with Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), the controversial pan-Islamist movement that is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” organization but is legal in Ukraine. Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks the establishment of a caliphate but does not espouse violence to achieve its goals.

The raids took place on March 27, 2019, with early morning large-scale search-and-seizure operations in the activists’ homes in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, and its suburbs. Heavily armed security personnel and police cordoned off homes and stormed inside, in some cases breaking doors and windows. They seized computer equipment, cell phones, tablets, flash drives, and Islamic literature. The searches violated procedural safeguards provided for in Russian and Ukrainian law, such as not allowing the residents to have a legal counsel present and not having independent witnesses to observe the search. In some cases, security officers appeared to plant books and brochures banned in Russia as “extremist publications.”

Twenty men were arrested at home, immediately following the searches. Three were arrested later that evening in Rostov-on-Don, where they had traveled the day before to deliver food parcels to jailed activists and attend court hearings. Officers with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) abducted, beat, and threatened to kill them, then transported them to Crimea.

Lawyers for these 23 men were granted access to their clients when the clients were in custody at the FSB headquarters in Simferopol. Court hearings on pretrial custody took place in Simferopol on March 27 and 28. Lawyers and family members said the hearings, which resulted in pretrial detention, were rushed, perfunctory, and either closed or severely restricted public access.

One man, Edem Yayachikov, remains at large, wanted by Russian authorities on allegations of Hizb ut-Tahrir involvement. On April 17, FSB agents rounded up Raim Aivazov, a Crimean Tatar activist and friend of Yayachikov. They drove him to a deserted area, carried out a mock execution, beat him, and threatened to kill him unless he “cooperated.” They took him to the FSB office in Simferopol and forced him to sign a “confession” incriminating himself, Yayachikov, and those arrested on March 27 as Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

During his second pretrial custody hearing, Aivazov told the judge about his ordeal and retracted his confession. His lawyer filed a kidnapping and torture complaint, and the authorities have opened an inquiry.

None of the men are accused of planning, carrying out, or being an accessory to any act of violence. Nineteen, including Aivazov, are charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, and five with organizing the activities of an alleged local Hizb-ut-Tahrir cell. Under Russian law, neither offense requires evidence that the accused has committed any specific offending behavior, such as planning or abetting attacks.

Edem Semedlyaev, a lawyer for one of the men who coordinates the work of lawyers representing the others, said that the defendants chose to neither acknowledge nor deny links with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Instead they invoked Article 51 of Russia’s Constitution, which sets out the rights against self-incrimination. If convicted, the men face prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life under Article 205.5 of Russia’s criminal code (organizing and participating in activities of a terrorist organization). Expand

Lemara Omerova and her grandchild after the arrest of her husband, Enver Omerov, and her son and the grandchild’s father, Riza Omerov, on June 10, 2019, on politically motivated terrorism charges in Crimea.

© 2019 Taras Ibraghimov, Belogorsk (Crimea)

These 24 arrests were followed by the arrests of another eight men in Crimea on similar charges on June 10, bringing the total number of Crimean Tatars being prosecuted for association with Hizb ut-Tahrir since 2015 to 63. Among them were five Crimean Tatar activists who on June 18 received prison sentences ranging from 12 to 17 years. The FSB said that it has identified and eliminated Hizb ut-Tahrir cells in Yalta, Bakhchisarai, Simferopol, and Sevastopol.

With the 24 most recent cases not yet moved to trial, defense lawyers have yet had access to all the alleged evidence against their clients. Based on the documents and information they have received during the investigation and pretrial custody hearings, they believe that, as in previous Hizb ut-Tahrir cases in Crimea, the prosecution will largely rely on recordings of discussions on religion and politics obtained through wire-tapping and testimony from “secret witnesses,” or under-cover agents.

Semedlyaev said that he and his colleagues saw the case as politically motivated “because practically all the people who were arrested… had an active civic position. They helped victims of abuses, they were not afraid of speaking up… of shedding light [on abuses] … Also, [the authorities] show all others – if you follow their footsteps, you will share their fate.”

Russia’s international partners should urge Russian authorities to drop the charges against Crimean Tatar activists and ensure prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into all allegations of abuse by law enforcement and security officers against them.

“There are neither accusations nor evidence that these Crimean Tatar men were involved in or planning any act of violence,” Williamson said. “Russian authorities should stop the crackdown on Crimean Solidarity and unjustified interference with freedom of association, religion, and expression in Crimea.”

For details about the crackdown, the legal framework, and the family’s accounts, please see below.

At least 20 of the 24 arrested men were involved, to different degrees, with Crimean Solidarity. Established in 2016, the group provides legal and social support for the families of those arrested for political reasons and documents and live streams court proceedings, police searches, and raids. It has become the most active voice among those peacefully opposing the occupation of the peninsula. Most of the group’s activists are Crimean Tatars.

Many Crimean Tatar activists and others critical of Russia’s actions in Crimea have been targets of persecution since Russia began occupying the peninsula in 2014. Russian authorities and their proxies have subjected them to harassment, intimidation, threats, intrusive and unlawful searches of their homes, criminal prosecution, physical attacks, and enforced disappearances. Russia has banned Crimean Tatar media and organizations that criticized Russia’s actions in Crimea.

In May, two leading members of Crimean Solidarity, Lutfie Zudieva and Mumine Saliyeva, were briefly detained and fined for “propaganda with the use of extremist symbols.” This administrative charge stemmed from their earlier social media posts supposedly involving symbols or inscriptions related to Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Torture, Cruel, and Degrading Treatment

Human Rights Watch concluded from its research that at least 4 of the 24 detained men experienced torture or other cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of Russian security agents.

Raim Aivazov, born 1994

Aivazov, a resident of Kamenka, knew some of the men arrested on March 27 and is a close friend of Yayachikov, who is wanted by authorities. FSB agents detained Aivazov and forced him to incriminate himself and others under torture.

On April 16, Aivazov was traveling to Odessa, arriving at the Kalanchak crossing point, on the Russian imposed border with the rest of Ukraine around midnight. His wife, Mavile Aivazova, said that he texted her that a Russian border control officer took his passport and told him to wait. Aivazov sent his wife several more messages, saying he was still waiting, and that the border officials would not explain the delay. His last message came at 3 a.m. on April 17. She then called and texted him repeatedly on various messaging platforms, but he did not reply. Later that morning, the family filed a missing person report.

At 10:30 a.m., Aivazov’s wife and mother received messages from Aivazov’s number saying that he had crossed the border and that all was well. Both immediately replied, urging him to call them on video. They received repeated replies saying it was not a good time. After the family persisted, the sender promised to call “in 10-15 minutes,” but then stopped replying. Both women assumed that the messages had been sent by someone who was holding Aivazov. That afternoon, Aivazov called his sister, saying he had been arrested and was at the FSB headquarters in Simferopol.

On April 18, Aivazov’s family saw him at his pretrial custody hearing in Simferopol. Aivazov’s mother, Zukhra Amakova, said, “He was like a stranger. We couldn’t recognize him… He wouldn’t lift his eyes. He wouldn’t look at [us]. His father was asking, ‘Raim, what happened?’ And he just said, ‘Papa, that’s the way it has to be.’” Aivazov’s wife said that at one point he whispered to her that he had been “taken to the woods” and “had confessed to everything they wanted.”

In May, when his Moscow-based lawyer, Maria Eismont, visited Aivazoz before his second pretrial custody hearing, she learned about what had happened to him. Aivazov told Eismont that at the crossing check point, three FSB agents had rounded him up, forced him into a car, and drove to a nearby forest. They kicked him and forced him to his knees. One put a gun to Aivazov’s head as the others fired shots next to him, threatening to kill him and dump his body in a pond. They demanded to know Yayachikov’s whereabouts, and because Aivazov could not answer the question, he thought they would kill him. The agents then told him that the only way he could save his life was by “cooperating” with them.

They took him to the FSB office in Simferopol. Officials wrote up a detention report saying he was detained at 1:30 p.m. on April 17 in the office of an FSB investigator. It made no mention of Aivazov having been seized at the crossing point. The investigator provided a state-appointed lawyer who told Aivazov that it was in his “best interest” to sign the documents the investigator wanted him to sign. Aivazov signed a confession saying he was a member of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell, along with the recently arrested men.

Eismont convinced Aivazov to tell the judge at his pretrial custody hearing on May 13 about the real circumstances of his detention and the threats, including mock executions, and to withdraw his confession. On May 17, Eismont filed a complaint with Russia’s chief criminal investigative agency, describing her client’s treatment and seeking an investigation. She said the agency forwarded the complaint to its military investigative department in Crimea. A department investigator questioned Aivazov in his lawyer’s presence, and an inquiry is ongoing. Aivazov is in pretrial detention in Crimea. The others are being held in the Rostov region, in southern Russia.

Remzi Bekirov (age 34), Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, (born 1969), and Osman Arifimetov (born 1985)

Bekirov, Abdulkadyrov, and Arifimetov are among Crimean Solidarity’s most active members. They live-streamed from court hearings and assembled food parcels for prisoners. Relatives and lawyers describe them as “citizen-journalists.” Bekirov also has a press card from Grani.Ru, an independent online media outlet. FSB officers detained them in Rostov region, took them to a deserted area, beat them, and threatened to kill them. They had no food and very limited access to water for 24 hours after their detention.

The night before the house raids, the three traveled to Rostov-on-Don with parcels for jailed activists. Bekirov’s lawyer, Semedlyaev, said that FSB agents detained the three on March 27 between 8 and 9 p.m., at a McDonald’s in Aksai, 19 kilometers from Rostov-on-Don. A group of 10 to 15 officers rushed in, threw them to the floor, and kicked and beat them, mostly on the legs. Arifimetov also received a blow to his head and passed out.

The agents handcuffed the men and drove them to a forest, beating them and calling them offensive names on the way. Once there, the FSB agents beat them, pressed them for Yayachikov’s whereabouts, and demanded to know who tipped them off about the house raids. They said they did not know about Yayachikov and had heard only that morning about the house raids. “They threatened to kill them and bury the bodies right there,” Semedlyaev said. “At that point, the guys thought that was it. They were ready to say good-bye to life.”

The agents then drove the men to the Simferopol FSB headquarters, arriving on March 28. They were formally questioned, charged, and taken before a judge who authorized pretrial custody. At around 10 p.m., when they reached the Simferopol pretrial detention center, they were finally given food. The next morning, they and the other 20 men were flown to Rostov-on-Don and placed in several pretrial detention centers in Rostov region.

House Raids

Disproportionate Use of Force

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The mother, wife and son of Ruslan Suleimanov, one of the men arrested on politically motivated terrorism charges in Crimea on March 27, 2019. 

© 2019 Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch The March 27 raids began at around 6 a.m. and were conducted in the style of large-scale counterterrorism operations. Groups of heavily armed security agents and police cordoned off the targeted houses and, in some cases, entire streets or blocks. Relatives of the arrested men said they were awakened by loud knocks. Once they opened the door, armed and masked security agents stormed in and effectively took over before eventually identifying themselves properly or showing a warrant.

“They flew into different rooms, like flies,” said Suriya Sheikhalieva, wife of Rustem Sheikhaliev, from Kamenka. Gulzar Abdulkadyrova, wife of Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, from Stroganovka, could not count how many agents there were because “they just rushed into the house, without saying anything, without identifying themselves, and ran to different rooms.”

In several cases, security officers also broke doors or windows.

Semedlyaev said they broke a window in Yayachikov’s house in Kamenka.

Aliye Nezhmedunova, Arifimetov’s wife, said that no one was home and that her father and brother-in-law rushed to the house when other relatives told them what was happening. When the two men arrived, security agents would not allow them into the yard. Neighbors told Nezhmedunova that they saw the agents breaking the door and asked why they needed to do that. They said the agents replied, “We’ll tear apart the whole house if we feel like it.” They broke the front door and the door to the basement.

When Nezhmedunova was finally allowed to enter, after the search, she was struck by the damage. “They dragged everything from the basement outside – boxes, cans, our stroller and bicycle, [wooden shelves] and all the stuff – and just dumped it all in the yard. They overturned the children’s bed and all our documents and papers were thrown around… everywhere.”

The heavily armed and masked men frightened the children. Razie Gafarova, wife of Dzhemil Gafarov from Stroganovka, said that during the search, which lasted several hours, her daughters, ages 12 and 17, and brother, and sister-in-law were confined to the kitchen by several armed officers, which the girls found very frightening. “Both girls have been sleeping in the same room with me [since the raid] – they’re too shaken up,” Gafarova said. She pointed out that her husband was not an activist but knew some of the other men arrested.

Ruslan Suleimanov’s lawyer, Lilya Ghemedzhi, and his wife, Elzara Sifersha, said that the family’s nine-year-old son was particularly upset by the raid. “The stress was so severe that his psycho-emotional state is still affected,” Ghemedzhi said. “He needs psychological assistance.”

Suleimanov’s 70-year-old mother, Zera Suleimanova, fainted after seeing numerous armed and masked agents at their front door. Sifersha said:

She was standing on the doorstep and began sliding down it. [Suleimanov] rushed to her and caught her as she fainted. We screamed, urging [the agents] to call an ambulance. One of them said, ‘What’s happening here?’ and another replied, ‘Pay no attention. It’s just a show.’ … I said she could die because she has a heart condition. I asked several times and only on my third, or fourth attempt, one of them … called an ambulance.

The investigator promised to give Suleimanova a chance to say goodbye to her son, but the agents took him away without telling her. Ghemedzhi was near the yard but was denied access to the home, even though she was the family’s lawyer. She saw Suleimanova begging the armed servicemen to let her see her son. “I asked the police to let me calm her down, explain… support [her]. But they [refused] and I had to scream over the police cordon that her son had already been taken away.”

Planted Evidence

Three of the nine families interviewed said that security agents planted books and brochures associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir during house raids. In all three cases, the books and brochures seemed brand new and pristine, despite being found in dusty basements and/or cupboards. During the raids, most family members were forced to sit in one room, while security agents were able to go through the contents of the houses without a lawyer, independent witnesses, or the family present. These conditions made it possible to plant evidence undetected.

Khalide Bekirova, wife of Remzi Bekirov, from Stroganovka, said that security agents allegedly “found” books on a shelf in her basement: “I was in the living room, my parents and the kids were in the kitchen. . . During that time, they planted those books in the basement, two or three white books, one of them was called Caliphate.”

Gafarova said that security agents allegedly “found” two brochures in their attic. The agents started searching the attic before she or her husband had made it upstairs to monitor the search.

Those brochures… were new and glossy. There was not a speck of dust on them, though … the attic is dusty. … Two officers went up … They spent very little time poking around and then, bingo, they just picked up two brochures from the top of a cabinet… [Then] they immediately … returned downstairs, like they knew there was nothing else in the attic worth their attention.

Human Rights Watch examined the attic and, given its size and cluttered state, acknowledged it would have taken substantial time to conduct a complete search.

Ghemedzhi and Sifersha, Ruslan Suleimanov’s lawyer and wife respectively, said that security agents planted three books in the house and a cell phone in the yard. Ghemedzhi was standing by the police cordon and could see masked agents poking around Suleimanov’s yard and “opening doors of outbuildings” with no residents or witnesses there. Soon, she saw the agents leading Suleimanov through the yard, toward an outbuilding. An agent picked up a small, dark object from the ground. Suleimanov later told Ghemedzhi that it was a cell phone that belonged neither to him nor his family members.

Sifersha said that the agents “discovered” the three books when no one was present. They first found some cash on a shelf and told Suleimanov to take the money to his father. Then, the family heard one of the agents yelling, “We got you!” They looked out of the room and saw the agents standing in the hall with three brand new white books, one of which was titled Caliphate.

Suleimanov said that his family owned no such books and one of the agents told him to take them and have a look. Suleimanov refused to touch them, suspecting the agent was trying to trick him into leaving his fingerprints on them.

Members of all nine families said that the agents had brought some young adults, who were unknown in the local communities and appeared to be about the age of first-year university students, to act as witnesses to the searches. The family members who had been there, said that the young witnesses appeared uninterested in the proceedings, paid no attention to the security officers’ actions, signed the protocols without reading them or, in several cases, even seemed to be acting in collusion with security officers, to the point of assisting with a search. The agents denied residents’ requests to call witnesses from their neighborhood.

Legal Counsel Excluded from Observing Searches, Arrests

Russian and Ukrainian criminal procedure provides that lawyers may be present during house searches. Several lawyers active in Crimean Solidarity quickly found out about the raids and rushed to the sites. They requested access to advise their clients and monitor the search. Security agents refused to allow them past the cordons. Bekirova said that she could see her lawyer behind the police cordon and unsuccessfully demanded that they let her in.

Semedlyaev, who at the time of the search represented Yayachikov and his family, said that a riot police officer on the other side of Yayachikov’s gate prevented him from entering. Semedlyaev showed his lawyer’s ID and asked the policeman to tell the commanding officer that a lawyer had arrived to advise his clients and needed to access the premises. After Semedlyaev’s repeated requests, police told him the commanding officer said not to let him in. Yayachikov’s relatives told Smedlyaev that the search took place with no family members present. “No one even knew what they [the agents] seized,” Semedlyaev said.

The lawyers were granted access to their clients when they were in custody at the FSB headquarters before pretrial custody hearings, held on March 27 and 28. Those whose clients’ hearings were on March 27 had no time to prepare properly. Expand

Activists of Crimean Solidarity gather by a court building in Simpheropol, Crimea to support the Crimean Tatars arrested on politically motivated terrorism charges on March 27, 2019.

© 2019 Crimean Solidarity

Legal Framework

As an occupying power, Russia is obliged by international law to respect Ukrainian laws that were in force in Crimea when it began its occupation, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation. Russia rejects its status as an occupying power, violates it obligations under international humanitarian law, and applies its federal laws to Crimea, including criminalizing activity not previously criminalized on the peninsula. Nonetheless, all relevant human rights treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention against Torture (CAT), apply in Crimea and all authorities, whether they are Russian or Crimean acting under Russian authority, are bound by these treaties.

The relevant obligations on Russia’s security and law enforcement include the absolute prohibition on torture, and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment and the prohibition on arbitrary detention. The context of the detention of the men, and the treatment to which many of them were subjected, violate those prohibitions.

The ECHR and the ICCPR impose obligations to ensure people are protected from the risk of undue intrusions by law enforcement or other state agents into their homes. As such, any actions by law enforcement when conducting searches on private homes must be in accordance with law, necessary in a democratic society, and proportionate to the lawful aim pursued. Actions such as unnecessary show of force and ransacking of private premises violates human rights protections against arbitrary interference with family, home, and private life. Safeguards should be in place to prevent abuse by law enforcement, including in anti-terrorist legislation, and agents must comply with the law in the conduct of operations and searches.

Russia must also respect fundamental rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and religion. While it may fall within Russia’s discretion to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization, that does not give Russian authorities carte blanche to use its counterterrorism law as a tool to suppress nonviolent opposition, criticism, or protest.

The prosecution on terrorism charges of Crimean Tatars for political or religious speech that does not call for or incite violence is an unjustified interference with freedoms of opinion, expression, and religion.

Russia’s use of the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir to go after Crimean Tatar activists who have not engaged in criminal behavior, but who may oppose Russian occupation or are discussing their religious and political beliefs, is not only a violation of freedom of association but is a misuse of the criminal justice system for political ends.

Nobel Winner Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit Lives On

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019

Two years since Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo died from complications of liver cancer while guarded by state security on July 13, 2017, the Chinese government has neither investigated nor taken responsibility for the circumstances of his death. Instead, it has intensified repression of the human rights activists who carry on his legacy – a grim reality marked just this week by the death of Ji Sizun after another baseless imprisonment.

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Liu Xiaobo. 

© Independent Chinese PEN Center

A few recent examples: in April, a Sichuan court handed down a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence to activist Chen Bing for producing and selling a liquor in commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. In May, Sichuan police detained Deng Chuanbin, an independent filmmaker, for tweeting a photo of the liquor. In June, Guangdong police detained labor activist Ling Haobo after Ling called on Twitter for Deng’s release.

This July also marks the fourth anniversary of the “709” crackdown: on July 9, 2015, Chinese police rounded up and interrogated about 300 rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists across the country. Despite sustaining physical ailments and mental trauma as a result of torture by authorities, many continued their fight upon release. The lawyers pledged in a statement released ahead of the anniversary that they would “calmly face the suppression, persecution, detention and even prison sentences” for “pursuing freedom, equity, and justice.”

The activists and lawyers are not naïve about the possible consequences of their actions. Rather – as they often tell me – they feel compelled to act by their anger over injustices, their compassion for victims of abuses, and their friendships with fellow activists and lawyers. Activists have also expressed a desire to honor the life and legacy of Liu Xiaobo – a friend, a mentor, and a towering figure in China’s human rights movement. In his article commemorating Liu, dissident writer Mo Zhixu mused: “It wasn’t through his direct urging and pushing that Xiaobo influenced me, but through his existence itself… He was an example, a role model.” 

“Freedom of expression is… the source of humanity and the mother of truth,” Liu Xiaobo said. Such unyielding faith in the intrinsic meaning of pursuing freedom inspires activists across China at a time of severe government repression – and it will live on. 

Papua New Guinea Massacre Doesn’t Justify Death Penalty

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Local residents stand by the bodies of victims recovered in recent tribal violence, Karida, Papua New Guinea, July 8, 2019.

© 2019 Pills Kolo via AP On July 8, gunmen in Papua New Guinea (PNG) killed at least 16 people during tribal fighting in Munima and Karia villages in the country’s Hela province. Reports indicate at least 8 women and 5 children were among the victims. Health workers told local media that “it was difficult to identify the bodies because they were all chopped to pieces.” PNG police said the massacre was in retaliation for the killing of six people in an ambush on July 6.

The killings occurred in the electorate of newly appointed Prime Minister James Marape.

In an emotional Facebook post, Marape threatened to “come after” the perpetrators with the death penalty. He expressed frustration at the inadequate police presence in the area and suggested that lack of resources were partly responsible: “How can a province of 400,000 people function with policing law and order with under 60 policemen?”

The PNG government reinstated the death penalty in 2013 and there currently are 16 people on death row. Of the 16, the national court sentenced 8 to death last year for their involvement in sorcery-related killings. Last week, Marape responded to questions about prisoners who have been on death row for over 10 years, saying that parliament will continue to debate whether the death penalty should remain in the criminal code. While there have been no known executions in PNG since 1954, Marape’s calls for the death penalty as punishment for the July 8 crimes is deeply concerning.

Tribal violence is common in Papua New Guinea and disproportionately affects women and children. Oxfam research from 2010 found that “insecurity and violence pervade all aspects of daily life in Hela, undermining all types of development in the region.” Hela is a province rich in gas reserves, which has led to tensions over the distribution of revenues.

These attacks are abhorrent, but the death penalty is not the answer. The United Nations General Assembly has continually called on countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view toward its eventual abolition. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an irreversible, degrading, and cruel punishment.

The Marape government should focus on conducting a thorough and impartial investigation and prosecuting those responsible. Ensuring a robust legal system in which suspects receive a fair trial is the best way to bring justice to the victims.

Stop Criminalizing Sex Work in DC

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019
Expand © 2012 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has joined with 61 organizations calling for the passage of a bill to decriminalize sex work in Washington, DC.

Last week, the groups sent a letter to the Council of the District of Columbia urging passage of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act 2019, which would repeal statutes that criminalize adults consensually engaging in sexual exchange, while upholding existing laws prohibiting sex trafficking. The signatories represented a wide range of organizations working in racial and gender justice, LGBT rights, health, and civil liberties.

For sex workers in the US capital, who have long been subjected to police harassment (including police extortion of sex), arrests, discrimination, and violence, the bill is a beacon of hope. Human Rights Watch has interviewed sex workers in Washington, other US cities, and in countries ranging from Tanzania to South Africa to China about the impact criminalization has on their lives. We consistently found that criminalization makes sex workers less safe, driving them underground and creating conditions for appalling levels of violence, including rape and murder – a sad reality for sex workers in and around the District of Columbia. People of color, trans people, and members of other marginalized groups who sell sex are particularly at risk, as DC’s Sex Worker Advocates Coalition has argued. Many sex workers fear reporting crimes to the police; when they do, they face humiliation and even arrest. As Human Rights Watch has shown, use of condoms as evidence of sex work, including in Washington, is a deterrent to safer sex practice that undermines protection from HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.

Laws against sex work run afoul of international human rights law, including privacy rights. Sex work, distinct from trafficking, is about having a choice and not being treated as a voiceless victim. Arguments that sex work should be banned to “protect” sex workers disregard their agency. What sex workers need is not condescension and invasion into their private lives, but support in achieving decent working conditions.

As New York State and other jurisdictions also look to decriminalizing sex work, DC’s councilmembers should act immediately to schedule a hearing on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act. As the letter to the DC Council sets forth, “The time for justice for people who trade sex in DC is now.”

Kidnappings Endemic in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019
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Social Democratic Front chairman Ni John Fru Ndi speaks to his supporters during a campaign rally in Yaounde, Cameroon, Saturday, Oct. 8. 2011.

© 2011 AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

On June 28, armed separatists beat and kidnapped John Fru Ndi, a well-known Cameroonian politician considered by some as one of the country’s old guard of political activism, from his home in Bamenda, North-West region. The attack was only the latest in a litany of abuses implicating armed separatists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.

Fru Ndi, chairman of the opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF), has been a prominent advocate for the rights of Cameroon’s Anglophone minority. This was his second kidnapping in two months. Three days before his most recent abduction, armed separatists abducted and released another high-profile figure, Cornelius Fontem Esua, the archbishop of Bamenda.

Since 2017, armed separatists in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions have kidnapped hundreds of people, including students and clergy, amid growing calls for the Anglophone regions to secede.

Fru Ndi told Human Rights Watch that the separatists beat him repeatedly. “I heard shooting and I ran out of my house,” he said. “Three separatists put me down on the rough cement ground of my courtyard. They hit me in the head and in the stomach. I was grabbed like an animal to be slaughtered.” They shot his bodyguard in the leg.

Fru Ndi said he was brought to an abandoned house in the nearby forest where he was told to withdraw his party’s representatives from parliament. “I was taken to what the separatists called their ‘prison.’ I saw at least 15 separatists there, armed with assault rifles. They were smoking marijuana and were under the effects of other drugs. They took off my shirt, raised the Ambazonian flag and sang their anthem. They took pictures of me,” he said. “The separatists pretend to be protecting the Anglophone people, but they are just abusing them.” They released Fru Ndi on June 29.

Since late 2016, violence has gripped the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, claiming the lives of about 2000 people and forcing half a million to flee their homes.

The grievances expressed by Anglophone groups over political marginalization and lack of recognition of their cultural identity are real. But kidnapping and abusing civilians will do little to address these grievances.

New Voluntary Standard for Responsible Jewelry Production

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019
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Children pan for gold along the mercury-contaminated Bosigon River in Malaya, Camarines Norte.

© 2015 Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

(London) A major jewelry industry group has made significant improvements to its process for certifying its members when it comes to ensuring human rights risks are addressed in supply chains, 27 civil society groups said today in an open letter to the industry group. But the organizations highlighted serious concerns with how the certification process will be carried out and urged the industry group, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), to address them.

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The Responsible Jewellery Council includes over 1,100 member companies along the jewelry supply chain. In April 2019, the RJC published a new version of its certification standard, the “Code of Practices,” following consultation and input from industry and civil society groups. All RJC members are required to comply with the standard and are audited against it two years after joining.

“It is good news for human rights protection that the Responsible Jewellery Council will now require member companies to put into practice the international norm on responsible sourcing,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch. “But it is a source of concern that the Responsible Jewellery Council has put implementation for the diamond industry on a slower track, risking coming across as soft on that part of the industry.”

The revised standard now requires Responsible Jewellery Council members to exercise due diligence over their supply chains in accordance with the leading international norm on responsible mineral sourcing, the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Under the OECD guidance, companies must take the following five steps: set up management systems for due diligence; identify human rights risks in their supply chains; respond to the risks found; carry out an independent, third-party audit; and report publicly about the steps taken.

The RJC’s current phase-in plan for carrying out the new certification standard foresees that diamond and colored gemstone companies’ existing practices will not be fully assessed against the standard until April 2021 at the earliest. Certification can be granted for up to three years, meaning that some members may not be fully checked for compliance until 2024.

Furthermore, a review of the standard and its assessment process is scheduled for after April 2021, creating additional uncertainty over whether and when diamond and gemstone companies will be checked for full compliance. Companies in other jewelry supply chains only have a transition period of one year, until April 2020.

Other concerns highlighted by the groups include what they consider to be inconsistent reporting requirements under the new standard. One provision calls for public reporting, while another one provides for reporting solely to stakeholders. The groups also expressed concern that the certification process remains opaque and “could allow member companies to pursue irresponsible business practices.”

The groups recommended requiring companies to publish audit summaries, including information on all facilities visited, areas of non-compliance, a description of any identified risks, and the specific measures taken to assess and mitigate risks. They also said that the Responsible Jewellery Council should ensure that all members up for certification beginning in April 2020 are audited against the new Code of Practices, including the full five-step framework required by the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance.

“The Responsible Jewellery Council should make its audit program stronger and more transparent,” Kippenberg said. “It is essential for consumers to understand what steps have been taken to ensure that the jewelry they buy wasn’t made at the expense of the workers’ human rights and safety.”

Philippines: UN Takes Critical Step Toward Accountability

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019

(Geneva, July 11, 2019) – The United Nations Human Rights Council’s adoption of a resolution on the Philippines is crucial for holding the government accountable for thousands of “drug war” killings and other abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The council’s 41st regular session runs from June 24 through July 12, 2019.

On July 11, the council approved the resolution initiated by Iceland by a vote of 18 to 14, that requests the UN human rights office to present a comprehensive report on human rights in the Philippines to the council next June. The resolution also expresses concern about the range of rights violations in the country and calls on the government to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms and experts. The Philippine government earlier denounced the resolution as a “divisive motion” and sought to block it.

“The Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines is a modest but vital measure,” said Laila Matar, deputy Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “It signals the start of accountability for thousands of ‘drug war’-related killings and other abuses, and will provide hope to countless survivors and families of victims.”

Iceland and other countries presented the resolution to address flagrant violations of human rights in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The requested June 2020 report by the high commissioner for human rights and discussion by member states could form the basis for further action if the situation in the Philippines does not improve or those responsible for abuses go unpunished. Meanwhile, the council should monitor the Philippines closely and take urgent action as necessary.

Since Duterte took office in June 2016, Philippine police have said that they have killed more than 6,600 people during anti-drug operations. Other estimates by local nongovernmental organizations and the national Commission on Human Rights place the death toll of the “drug war” at more than 27,000.

The police have sought to justify the killings on the grounds that suspects “fought back.” Such claims are belied by reporting from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and domestic and international media that found police routinely plant evidence such as guns and drugs on victims’ bodies to justify killings.

The unlawful killing of drug suspects has affected the families of the mostly impoverished victims, particularly children. Many of these children have stopped going to school; are forced to work or live in the streets after the killing of the family breadwinner; and suffer deep, psychological trauma.

In Geneva, the Philippine government tried to deflect the issues raised in the resolution by waging an aggressive disinformation campaign against Iceland and those that supported the measure, including human rights groups and critics of the “drug war.” Previously, the Philippines, a member of the council, and Duterte himself sought to discredit the UN and the experts it appoints to investigate human rights issues. In early June, 11 of these experts launched a call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. The government also launched a campaign in the Philippines to vilify and harass human rights defenders, journalists, and clergy who criticized the “drug war” killings.

“Countries determined to address the human rights crisis in the Philippines prevailed in the face of Manila’s ultimately counterproductive efforts to shield itself from scrutiny,” Matar said. “The challenge now is to ensure that the process moves quickly to compel the Philippine government to stop the killings and prosecute those responsible.”

 

US: Family Separation Harming Children, Families

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, July 11, 2019
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Migrant families cross the Rio Grande to get across the border into the United States, to turn themselves in to authorities and ask for asylum, next to the Paso del Norte international bridge, near El Paso, Texas, Friday, May 31, 2019. © 2019 Christian Torrez/AP Photo

  (Washington, DC) – United States officials are separating migrant children from their families at the border, causing severe and lasting harm, Human Rights Watch said today. The US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold hearings on the government’s family separation policy on July 12, 2019.   Human Rights Watch interviews and analysis of court filings found that children are regularly separated from adult relatives other than parents. This means that children are often removed from the care of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and adult siblings even when they show guardianship documents or written authorization from parents. Parents have also been forcibly separated from their children in some cases, such as when a parent has a criminal record, even for a minor offense that has no bearing on their ability as caregivers. As a result, in cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, children as young as 5 have been held in Border Patrol holding facilities without their adult caregivers.   “Congressional hearings are the first step in accounting for and addressing the enormous harms inflicted on children and their families in holding cells at the border,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Senior immigration officials should take this opportunity to acknowledge these serious concerns and announce an immediate end to family separation.”   A 5-year-old Honduran boy held in the Clint Border Patrol Station in Texas told lawyers that when he and his father were apprehended at the border, “the immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again.” He did not know how long he had been separated from his father: “I am frightened, scared, and sad.” In another case, an 8-year-old Honduran boy detained in Clint with his 6-year-old sister said, “They took us from our grandmother and now we are all alone.” He did not know how long they had been apart from their grandmother: “We have been here a long time.”   Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 children and adults, and reviewed an additional 55 sworn declarations filed in court and taken from children and adults placed in holding cells at the Texas border between June 10 and 20, 2019. Human Rights Watch identified 22 cases in which one or more children described forced separation from a family member, usually within the first few hours after apprehension. Three Human Rights Watch lawyers took part in the teams that collected these declarations to make sure conditions were in compliance with a settlement agreement. The agreement sets the standards for conditions in which migrant children are held.   No federal law or regulation requires children to be systematically separated from extended family members upon apprehension at the border, and there is no requirement to separate a child from a parent unless the parent poses a threat to the child.   US border officials are required to identify children who are victims of trafficking – such as children who are transported for the purpose of exploitation – and to take steps to protect them, but all of the cases of family separation reviewed by Human Rights Watch involved children travelling with relatives to seek asylum, join other family members, or both, with no indication that they were trafficked.   In June 2018, the Trump administration announced an end to the government’s forcible family separation policy after images of children in cages, leaked recordings of border agents mocking crying children, and other news of the extent and impact of the administration’s policy prompted a public outcry.   The cases that Human Rights Watch reviewed demonstrate that forcible family separation is continuing. For relatives other than parents, forcible separation appears to be a routine practice, and for many children, separation from relatives who have served as primary caregivers can be as traumatic as separation from a parent.   Between July 2018 and February 2019, US border officials separated at least 200 children from parents. They often failed to give a clear reason for the separation, a New York Times review found; in some cases, agents separated families because of minor or very old criminal convictions.   Immigration authorities have never disclosed the number of relatives other than parents forcibly separated from children at the border.   Forcible separation is traumatic for children and adults alike. Separated children interviewed by Human Rights Watch described sleepless nights, difficulties in concentrating, sudden mood shifts, and constant anxiety, conditions they said began after immigration agents forcibly separated them from their family members.   Most separated children we interviewed reported having parents or other relatives in the US, but family members with whom Human Rights Watch spoke said border agents made no attempt to contact them.   To prevent harm to children and uphold the principle of family unity, Human Rights Watch urges that:
  • The acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection should direct immigration agents to keep families together unless an adult presents a clear threat to a child or separation is otherwise in a child’s best interests. That determination should be made by a licensed child welfare professional, such as a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist with training and competence to work with children.
  • The inspector general’s office of the Department of Homeland Security should systematically review all instances of family separation, including of family members other than parents, to determine whether separation was in the child’s best interests.
  • Congress should prohibit the separation of families, including of children and their siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins, except when separation is in an individual child’s best interests.

“The border agency needs clear direction from the administration to end forcible family separation and other abusive practices,” Bochenek said. “And it’s up to Congress to provide the oversight to make sure the border agency complies.”

“Zero Tolerance” and Systematic Family Separation

In May 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which parents – including those seeking asylum – would be prosecuted for illegal entry, and their children forcibly removed from their parents’ custody and reclassified as “unaccompanied.” White House chief of staff John Kelly told National Public Radio that month: “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a court case to compel the US government to disclose how many children were separated from their parents under the policy. Authorities struggled to provide this information, eventually telling the court that more than 2,700 children had been forcibly separated from their parents in May and June 2018. On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that he said ended his administration’s forcible family separation policy.

A government report published in January 2019 found that “thousands” more children had been forcibly separated from their parents, and beginning much earlier, than the administration had previously acknowledged. A leaked draft policy document confirmed administration officials were discussing a family separation policy as of late 2017.

The government has acknowledged that forcible family separations continued after the formal end of the “zero tolerance” policy. In a court filing this February, it reported at least 245 separations between June 26, 2018, and February 5, 2019. By late May, the number had risen to 700, the ACLU reported. In some cases these were triggered by minor, nonviolent offenses – a 20-year-old nonviolent robbery conviction in one case and possession of a small amount of marijuana in another, in cases reviewed by the New York Times. Most of these cases did not list detailed reasons for the separation.

These figures do not include the number of children who were forcibly separated from relatives other than parents.

Children Distraught Without Their Parents

Children described days of not knowing where their parents had been taken and when, if ever, they would be reunited. For example, a 17-year-old boy from El Salvador, interviewed in Clint, said that he and his mother had crossed an international bridge 16 days before. He said:

We presented ourselves to border patrol agents, who then separated us. They refused to explain why they were doing so. Since that moment, I have not known where my mother is. I have not known if my mother was in the United States or elsewhere, or even if she was alive. I have been extremely worried about her.

Children Taken from Grandmothers, Aunts, and Uncles

A 12-year-old girl who travelled to the US with her grandmother and 8 and 4-year-old sisters said that border agents woke them up at 3 a.m. two days before she spoke with lawyers:

[T]he officers told us that our grandmother would be taken away. My grandmother tried to show the officers a paper signed by my parents saying that my grandmother had been entrusted to take care of us. The officers rejected the paperwork, saying that it had to be signed by a judge. Then the officers took my dear grandmother away. We have not seen her since that moment. . . . Thinking about this makes me cry at times. . . . My sisters are still upset because they love her so much and want to be with her.

In another case, a woman who had raised her niece said border agents told her the notarized guardianship papers she showed them were “no good in the United States.” Agents told her she should expect to be separated from her niece once they were transferred from the Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, the facility frequently called the perrera, meaning “dog kennel,” because of its chain-link-fence holding pens.

An 11-year-old boy who travelled to the US with his 3-year-old brother and their 18-year-old uncle to escape gang violence in Honduras said that border agents separated him and his brother from their uncle when they were apprehended, about three weeks before Human Rights Watch spoke to him in Clint:

The border agents made us sit in a circle, then we were placed on trucks and transported. I don’t know to where. My uncle identified himself as our uncle. The agents told us we would be separated. This was so sad for me. I don’t know where they sent my uncle. We were not allowed to say goodbye to each other.

Human Rights Watch identified many other such cases in our own interviews and the declarations we reviewed. For instance:

  • A 12-year-old girl from Guatemala said that border agents separated her from her aunt and cousin when the three entered the United States at the beginning of June, 15 days before she spoke with lawyers while in the Clint border station.
  • An 8-year-old boy told lawyers he came to the United States with his aunt, who had been taking care of him back home in Guatemala. He said that after border agents separated him from his aunt three days earlier, “I cried and they did not tell me where I was going.”
  • A 12-year-old girl from El Salvador said she and her 7-year-old sister were separated from their grandmother the previous day, after they crossed into the United States and reported to Border Patrol officers.

Siblings Forced Apart

A 17-year-old girl from El Salvador told lawyers she entered the United States with her 8-month-old son and her older sister. Border agents “separated [my sister and me] shortly after we arrived in the US about three weeks ago and I have not been allowed to speak with her ever since.”

A 16-year-old girl from El Salvador, interviewed in Clint, said that she and her 5-month-old daughter were separated from her 20-year-old sister and her sister’s 3-year-old son when they were apprehended three days before she spoke to lawyers in Clint. Border agents later told her that her sister and nephew had been released and sent to live with family members.

A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that immediately after she and her 18-year-old sister crossed the river to enter the United States – she was not sure how long ago – border agents “lined us up and checked our skin and our hair. That is when they took my sister away from me and now I’m very worried about her. I don’t know where she is or if she is ok.”

Adult Caregivers Returned to Mexico Without Children

Human Rights Watch has previously identified family separations occurring in the context of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which tens of thousands of primarily Latin American asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait while their claims are pending in the United States. In the context of the MPP, agents separate families who had been traveling together at the border. Children, including some with mental health concerns, were separated from non-parental guardians by Border Patrol, classified as “unaccompanied alien children,” and detained alone. Meanwhile, their adult family members were sent to Mexico for the duration of their asylum cases, which can take months or years. Staying in contact is especially difficult for families separated under the MPP, since those forced to wait in Mexico may not have access to a cell phone or landline.

Families Split Up During Their Time in Border Holding Cells

If both parents are travelling together, fathers are frequently split from the rest of the family. For example, a 23-year-old Honduran man said he, his wife, and their two children were all in the same border station: “I was separated from my family almost immediately. I have only seen my wife and children one time in the three days that I have been here.” A 5-year-old girl told lawyers her father was separated from her and her mother when they were held in McAllen.

Teenagers who are held in the same border station as their parents often stated that they were separated if they and their parents are different genders. In such cases, even though they and their parents are in the same facility, they recounted having little or no contact with their parents. For example:

  • A 15-year-old girl from Honduras said that she was separated from her father in the two holding cells where they were detained. “I’m in a mixed unit with fathers and their children, so I’m not sure why I can’t be with my dad,” she told lawyers.
  • “I was separated from my mother for five days and I was very frightened because I didn’t know what was happening to me or my mother,” a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy said.
  • A 16-year-old Honduran girl said that she and her father were held in separate cells without any contact for two days. “I did not see my father again until . . . they called us out to be fingerprinted and photographed. We were not allowed to see each other before then even though my father repeatedly requested to see me,” the girl said.

Border agents sometimes split children between parents, assigning one or more to each parent during their time in a holding cell. “Our family is kept in separate cells, one son with me and one son with my wife,” a 29-year-old Guatemalan man said. A Honduran woman, also 29, said that when she, her husband, and their two children were apprehended, “[m]y daughter and I were separated from my husband and son almost immediately. I’ve only seen my husband and son one time since we arrived three days ago.”

Some of the children held in border stations have children themselves, and some have travelled to the United States with spouses or long-term partners. 

In one such case, a 16-year-old girl said that after she and her fiancé, along with their one-year-old daughter, fled gang violence in El Salvador, border agents separated her fiancé from her and her daughter. She told lawyers:

We were all very upset. Our baby was crying. I was crying. My fiancé was crying. We asked the guards why they were taking our family apart, and they yelled at us. They were very ugly and mean to us. They yelled at him in front of everyone to sit down and stop asking questions. We have not seen him since.

In another case, a 15-year-old girl who fled Guatemala with her husband and their 8-month-old son said that they requested asylum at the border crossing: “We told them we were travelling as a family and wanted to [remain] together. However, [my husband] was separated from us, and I do not know where he is now. I have not heard from him and I am worried about him.”

Trauma of Forcible Separation

A 15-year-old Guatemalan boy told Human Rights Watch he felt “really desperate and heartbroken and worried” after he was forcibly separated from his father after border agents apprehended them. He described the two months he had been apart from his father:

It is really difficult to be apart from my dad. I don’t know when I will be able to see him, and it makes me really sad. Because I am thinking about my dad and being apart from him, I have difficulty concentrating in class. It’s hard for me to pay attention to what I should be doing. I feel anxious and worried a lot. There are days I don’t have any appetite. I never had a problem eating before, and I think if I weren’t so sad about being apart from my dad I wouldn’t have a problem with eating now. . . . When I start thinking about what happened, I feel sad and I start to cry. This never happened before. . . . This is new. It’s caused by the stress I’m under now.

Family separation causes severe and long-lasting harm. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted: “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

“This kind of stress makes children susceptible to acute and chronic conditions such as extreme anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension and heart disease,” two pediatricians wrote in the Houston Chronicle last year.

Kashmir: UN Reports Serious Abuses

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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Relatives of disappeared persons participate in a silent protest, demanding an investigation into the disappearances of people in Kashmir. 

© 2019 AP Photo/ Dar Yasin (New York) – India and Pakistan should act on the recommendations of the United Nations human rights office to protect basic rights in the contested region of Kashmir, Human Rights Watch said today.

The 43-page report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistan-held parts of Kashmir. The Indian governmentdismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.” Pakistan welcomed the report but requested that sections be removed or amended in which the information was “not specific to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir but were general human rights concerns affecting all of Pakistan.”

“India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Authorities in both countries should use the opportunity created by the UN report to change course and hold accountable those who’ve committed serious abuses.” India and Pakistan blame each other for human rights violations in Kashmir while ignoring their own responsibility for abuses. Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

The OHCHR said both India and Pakistan had failed to take any clear steps to address and implement the recommendations made in its June 2018 report, the office’s first-ever on human rights in Kashmir. The latest report comes after a deadly attack in February by a Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, that targeted a security forces convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 Indian soldiers. Military escalation between India and Pakistan ensued, including cross-border shelling at the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto international border in disputed Kashmir.

The Srinagar-based Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society reported that conflict-related casualties were the highest in 2018 since 2008, with 586 people killed, including 267 members of armed groups, 159 security forces personnel, and 160 civilians. The Indian government asserted that 238 militants, 86 security forces personnel, and 37 civilians were killed.

The OHCHR found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016, including continued use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon even though they have caused a large number of civilian deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The report also decried the lack of justice for past abuses such as killing and forced displacement of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and alleged sexual violence by Indian security forces personnel. It expressed concern over excessive use of force during cordon and search operations, resulting in civilian deaths as well as new allegations of torture and deaths in custody.

The OHCHR noted that India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “remains a key obstacle to accountability,” because it provides effective immunity for serious human rights violations. Since the law came into force in Kashmir in 1990, the Indian government has not granted permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

The UN agency also said that India should amend its thePublic Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years. The law has often been used to detain protesters, political dissidents, and other activists on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards.

In July 2018, the Indian state government of Jammu and Kashmir amended section 10 of the Public Safety Act, removing the prohibition on detaining permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir outside the state. At least 40 people, mainly separatist political leaders, were transferred to prisons outside the state in 2018, the OHCHR said. It said that transferring detainees outside the state makes it harder for family members to visit and for legal counsel to meet with them. It also noted that prisons outside the state were considered hostile for Kashmiri Muslim detainees, especially separatist leaders.

The UN human rights office said that armed groups were responsible for human rights abuses including kidnappings, killings of civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of children for armed combat, and attacks on people affiliated or associated with political organizations in Jammu and Kashmir. It cited the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors money laundering and terrorist financing, which has called on Pakistan to address its “strategic deficiencies.” India has long accused Pakistan of providing material support, arms, and training to the militant groups. Attacks in Kashmir have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since 1989.

The OHCHR also found that human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir included restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and association, institutional discrimination against minority groups, and misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target political opponents and activists. It noted threats against journalists for doing their work. The UN agency also expressed concern over enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir, noting that victim groups alleged that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances.

“The Indian government’s rejection of the latest UN report on human rights in Kashmir shows that it’s unwilling to confront its own human rights failures,” Ganguly said. “Both India and Pakistan should accept the findings of the report and invite an independent investigation to help end serious abuses in Kashmir.”

China: Account for Activist’s Death

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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A banner hangs in Ritan Park, one of three Beijing parks where demonstrators could legally stage protests during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in Beijing Monday, Aug. 4, 2008. 

© 2008 AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty  

(New York, July 10, 2019) – Chinese authorities should investigate the circumstances and causes of human rights activist Ji Sizun’s death, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 10, 2019, two months after being released from prison, Ji Sizun died from unknown illnesses, guarded by state security in a hospital in Fujian province. He was 69-years-old and had reportedly been ill-treated in detention.

“Chinese authorities need to investigate Ji Sizun’s hospitalization and death and hold accountable anyone responsible for wrongdoing,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For human rights defenders in China, prison sentences are increasingly turning into death sentences.”

Ji Sizun was released from prison in late April after serving four and a half years on fabricated charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” and “picking quarrels.” He was then taken straight to the intensive care unit of Xiangcheng District Hospital in his hometown of Zhangzhou, in Fujian province. During his hospitalization, police had allowed only very limited visits by Ji’s family, prevented his friends from visiting, and warned family and friends not to speak publicly about his condition.

Ji’s family said he was in good physical condition when he entered prison in 2014. During his imprisonment, he suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. Lawyers applied for medical parole on his behalf several times, but all the requests were denied.

A self-described grassroots activist, Ji provided legal advice and training to disadvantaged groups such as victims of China’s one-child policy, forced evictions, and land expropriation. In 2009, a Fujian court sentenced him to three years in prison for “forging official seals and documents” after he applied for a permit to hold a protest at one of the three official “protest zones” during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2016, another Fujian court sentenced him to four and a half years in prison after he helped petitioners organize protests and supported the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

In recent years, a number of prominent dissidents in China have become seriously ill in detention, been denied adequate care, and died either in detention or shortly after being released. In November 2017, dissident writer Yang Tongyan died less than three months after being released on medical parole. In July 2017, Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo died three weeks after he was transferred to a hospital under heavy security. In July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama, died while serving a life sentence after months of increasingly serious allegations that his health was deteriorating. In March 2014, activist Cao Shunli died in a Beijing hospital after she was arbitrarily detained in September 2013.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners set out that all death-in-custody cases should be subjected to “prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the circumstances and causes” of the death. As the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has noted, since there is a presumption of state responsibility due to the custodial setting and the government’s obligation to ensure and respect the right to life, the government has yet to provide evidence to rebut the presumption of state responsibility. Absent proof that it is not responsible, the government has an obligation to provide redress to the family of the deceased.

“The only lesson Chinese authorities seem to have learned from these activists’ deaths is that they can get away with wrongful treatment of prisoners,” Wang said. “The government’s failure to publicly account for these deaths will only mean more unnecessary loss of life in the future.” 

A Step Toward Accountability Over Nicaragua’s Brutal Crackdown

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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Chamber of the United Nations Human Rights Council, July 10, 2019.

© 2019 Tamara Taraciuk Broner/Human Rights Watch

The first oral report on Nicaragua by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva today brings important attention to the need for accountability for the victims of the government’s brutal crackdown.

It should spur UN member states to act on the egregious abuses committed with impunity by Nicaraguan security forces.

In April 2018, Nicaraguans who took to the streets to protest the government of President Daniel Ortega were met with violence. A brutal crackdown by the National Police and heavily armed pro-government groups against protesters left more than 300 people dead and more than 2,000 injured. In the following months, hundreds were detained.

Our report, “Crackdown in Nicaragua,” documented that many detainees had been subject to serious abuses, in some cases amounting to torture – including electric shocks, severe beatings, asphyxiation, rape, and fingernail removal. Some were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers. Detainees were also subject to deeply flawed prosecutions.

Since the March 2019 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, the Ortega government has made no progress toward ensuring victims’ access to justice. Not a single police officer is known to be under investigation. The president, the police’s “supreme chief” under Nicaraguan law, promoted top officials who bear responsibility for the abuses, rather than holding them to account. A broad amnesty law for crimes committed in the context of anti-government protests came into force in June; the law could be used to allow those responsible to evade justice.

As of June 10, 392 people jailed in the connection with anti-government protests had been released. But two-thirds of these individuals were conditionally released with charges still pending.

UN member states should redouble pressure on the Ortega government, including through heightened scrutiny. States should suspend all support for Nicaragua’s National Police and condition the reinstatement of police funding on, among other steps, concrete actions to hold perpetrators accountable. Parties to the UN Convention against Torture should exercise criminal jurisdiction, to the extent permitted under domestic law, over any Nicaraguan officials responsible for torture. In its upcoming written report on Nicaragua, scheduled for September, the high commissioner for human rights should recommend that the council create a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Nicaragua since April 2018.

UN: Unprecedented Joint Call for China to End Xinjiang Abuses

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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Chinese Vice-Foreign Affairs Minister Le Yucheng speaks during the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

© 2018 Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP  

(Geneva) – Twenty-two countries at the United Nations’ top human rights body issued a joint statement on July 10, 2019, urging China to end its mass arbitrary detentions and related violations against Muslims in the Xinjiang region, Human Rights Watch said today. In their unprecedented move, the countries also called on China to cooperate with the UN high commissioner for human rights and UN experts to allow meaningful access to the region.

“Twenty-two states have called China to task for its horrific treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “The joint statement is important not only for Xinjiang’s population, but for people around the world who depend on the UN’s leading rights body to hold even the most powerful countries to account.”

The countries expressed concern about reports of large-scale arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance, and other violations against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang. They urged China “to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang” for UN and independent international observers, and asked the high commissioner to keep the Human Rights Council (HRC) regularly informed on the situation.

In recent years, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and the media have reported on “political education” camps in Xinjiang, in which approximately 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are detained without any legal process, and subjected to political indoctrination, ill-treatment, and sometimes torture. Chinese authorities have deployed extraordinary surveillance technologies to track – and treat as criminal – a wide variety of lawful behavior. The government has either denied that the abuses are taking place or tried to justify its conduct as part of a national counterterrorism strategy.

In March, at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a regular review of the rights record of every UN member state, China sought to suppress critical scrutiny of its rights abuses. China tried to manipulate the review, provided blatantly false answers on critical issues such as freedom of expression and the rule of law, and threatened delegations “in the interest of our bilateral relations” not to attend a panel on human rights in Xinjiang.

The fact that many countries are now willing to call for an independent international assessment reflects skepticism about China’s pronouncements about the situation in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said.

The previous joint statement on China at the HRC was led by the United States in March 2016 with 12 signatories. That nearly double the number of countries have joined the current effort reflects growing international concern over the situation in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said. The signatories are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

“Governments are increasingly recognizing the suffering of millions of people in Xinjiang, with families torn apart and living in fear, and a Chinese state that believes it can commit mass violations uncontested,” Fisher said. “The joint statement demonstrates that Beijing is wrong to think it can escape international scrutiny for its abuses in Xinjiang, and the pressure will only increase until these appalling abuses end.”

Greece: Set New Focus on Rights for All

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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Unaccompanied children line up for an evening meal at a detention facility run by the Greek police.
 

© 2015 Kelly Lynn Lunde (Athens) – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis should demonstrate that he intends to put protecting human rights high on his agenda, Human Rights Watch said in an open letter to the new prime minister released today. Mitsotakis took office on July 8, 2019, following his party’s success in the July 7 national elections.

Human Rights Watch highlighted areas of concern and urged Mitsotakis to take action to end abuses against unaccompanied migrant children, other asylum seekers and migrants, and children with disabilities.

“The new prime minister should outline how he intends to guarantee human rights for everyone in Greece,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A first priority should be ending the scandalous and abusive detention of unaccompanied children in police lockups and detention centers.”

The new government should:

Mitsotakis has said that he wants to turn processing centers on the islands into detention centers and speed up asylum procedures and returns to Turkey. This is not an option, Human Rights Watch said, as the only way to increase the number or speed of returns to Turkey would be by weakening safeguards against abuse and illegal returns and breaching Greece’s duties under EU, refugee, and human rights law.

Ukraine: Pension Issues, Crossing Conditions

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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An older man with a disability sits on an old luggage cart preparing to cross the Stanitsa Luhanska border point in Eastern Ukraine. With wheelchairs rarely available, older people and others with mobility disabilities may resort to crossing by carts or sleds pushed by strangers, for a fee. April 6, 2018.

© 2018 John Wendle for Human Rights Watch

(Kyiv) – Ukraine’s new government should intensify efforts to protect the rights of older Ukrainians living in nongovernment-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was released today. Ukraine should end discriminatory policies and practices that affect the way older people living in those areas can access and collect their pensions.

“The challenge of disbursing social benefits to Ukrainians living in areas under the control of Russia’s proxies is a serious one for Ukraine’s government,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The existing policies regulating property rights of Ukrainians living in those areas are, simply put, discriminatory and they need to change.”

Ukrainian law requires pension-eligible Ukrainians living in the affected parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to register as internally displaced persons in government-controlled areas, to maintain residential addresses there, and to physically cross into those areas at least once every 60 days. People who fail to do so risk losing their pension.

Human Rights Watch summarized its research in eastern Ukraine on the experiences of older people, most of whom endure dangerous and unnecessarily frequent journeys across the line of contact. Human Rights Watch documented persistent but preventable conditions that make these crossings difficult for older people, particularly in the Luhansk region, which lacks a crossing point for motor vehicles. Many of the people seeking to collect their pensions have physical disabilities that impede their ability to walk. The letter further details stories of pensioners who have been unjustly denied pension payments.

Human Rights Watch made detailed recommendations to President Zelenskiy, urging him to support legal measures to stop linking pension eligibility to people’s displaced person status. The president should consider alternatives that would allow pensioners to minimize travel across the line of contact and improve conditions at the crossing points.  

“Current practices have an enormous, negative impact on older people, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Denber said. “The government can and should remove its bureaucratic hurdles to pension collection.”

UAE: Prisoners Held After Sentences Served


Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 9, 2019
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Abu Dhabi's skyline, United Arab Emirates. 

© 2016 Kamran Jebreili /AP Photo

(Beirut) – UAE authorities continue to hold at least five Emirati prisoners who completed their sentences between one and three years ago, Human Rights Watch said today. Emirati activists said that the men remain behind bars for “counseling” without a clear legal basis.

Three of the men were sentenced to three years in prison and two to five years on state security charges following what appear to be unfair trials in 2014 and 2016. They are Osama al-Najjar, an online activist; Khalifa al-Rabea and Othman al-Shehhi, online activists and members of al-Islah, a nonviolent, legally registered Islamist political movement that the UAE banned in 2014 as “terrorist” in response to upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere; and Badr al-Buhairi and Ahmad al-Mulla, activists with ties to al-Islah.

“Denying detainees freedom for years past their completed sentences demonstrates brazen contempt of the rule of law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These men all have lives and families to go back to and should not face the cruel and unlawful prospect of indefinite detention.”

Human Rights Watch has previously documented serious allegations of violations of due process and fair trial guarantees in the UAE, especially in state security-related cases. These include arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment at state security facilities. 

Al-Najjar used Twitter to campaign for the release of his father and other political detainees in Abu Dhabi and to criticize the conviction of 69 Emirati nationals in July 2013 in a mass trial of activists who demanded political reforms. Security forces arrested Al-Najjar in March 2014 and held him without charge for over six months. In November 2014, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced him to three years in prison under the overly restrictive cybercrimes law, on broadly worded charges including “damaging institutions” and “communicating with external organizations to provide misleading information.” Al-Najjar was scheduled for release in March 2017.

In March 2014, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced al-Rabea and al-Shehhi to five-year prison terms for their comments on Twitter in support of scores of political dissidents arrested in 2012 – many of whom were prosecuted in the mass trial of July 2013. Both men were arrested in July 2013 and held in undisclosed locations in solitary confinement for months before their trial.

They were convicted under both the cybercrimes law and the penal code on charges of “joining a secret organization” – an apparent reference to al-Islah – and “creating and managing websites [accounts] on the social networking site Twitter and disseminating news and ideas that incite hatred and disturbing public order.” The court refused to order an investigation into claims by both men that they had been tortured and ill-treated in detention. They were scheduled for release in July 2018.

Emirati security forces arrested al-Buhairi and al-Mulla in April 2014. In June 2016, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced them to three years in prison on charges of “joining a secret organization.” They were scheduled for release in April 2017.

The Emirati activists said that, despite completing their sentences, all five men are in al-Razeen prison on accusations of “posing a terrorist threat,” which under the UAE’s repressive counterterrorism law of 2014 appears to permit indefinite detention.

Article 40 (1) of the counterterrorism law stipulates that “a person shall be deemed as posing a terrorist threat if said person adopts extremist or terrorist ideology to the extent that he/she seems likely to commit a terrorist offense.” Article 40 (2) mandates that those seen to pose a terrorist threat shall by court order, upon the request of the state security prosecution, be placed in counseling, or Munasaha, centers, which article 1 defines as “administrative units aimed at enlightenment and reform of persons deemed to pose a terrorist threat or those convicted of terrorist offences.”

Article 41 states that the court may subject a person deemed to pose a terrorist threat to one or more of the following measures for the duration the court decides, including a travel ban, surveillance, being barred from living in a specific place or designated area, being prohibited from visiting specific locations or places, and being banned from contacting specific people.

Under article 48 of the counterterrorism law, the public prosecutor may place someone convicted of a terrorist offense in a “Munasaha program” that would be implemented in the penitentiary wherein the convict serves his sentence. The program would be carried out under the supervision of a Munasaha center.

The law fails to define a terrorist threat clearly, Human Rights Watch said. It sets no time limit for continued detention and instead requires the state security public prosecution to report to the court every three months. The court may order a person’s release if it finds that “his or her condition so allows.” It is not clear if the defendant has any right to attend the hearing or see or challenge the evidence used to justify their detention.

In al-Buhairi and al-Mulla’s cases, Emirati newspaper Al Itihad reported in October 2017 that the Federal Supreme Court upheld a previous conviction sentencing them to six months in a Munasaha center, subjecting them to surveillance, and banning them from travel for that same period. Emirati activists said that while that sentence has also expired, al-Buhairi and al-Mulla are still in al-Razeen prison in Abu Dhabi.

Activists said that al-Najjar, al-Rabea, and al-Shehhi are also in al-Razeen prison beyond completion of past sentences on the pretext of “posing a terrorist threat.”

UAE authorities should immediately clarify whether the five men held beyond their original sentences face charges for recognizable criminal activity. If so, they should be charged and brought to trial as quickly as possible. If not, authorities should release them immediately.

International human rights law protects basic rights, including the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on article nine of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stated that, “if, under the most exceptional circumstances, a present, direct and imperative threat is invoked to justify the detention of persons considered to present such a threat, the burden of proof lies on States parties to show that the individual poses such a threat and that it cannot be addressed by alternative measures, and that burden increases with the length of the detention. States parties also need to show that detention does not last longer than absolutely necessary, that the overall length of possible detention is limited and that they fully respect the guarantees provided for by article 9 in all cases.”

A May 2015 report on the UAE by the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers confirms the patterns of abuse in the handling of state security cases, including denying legal assistance during pretrial incommunicado detention and admitting coerced confessions as evidence in court proceedings.

“While proclaiming to the world that it is leading the fight against terrorism, the UAE has empowered its courts to order the continued and indefinite detention of opponents and critics on flimsy legal grounds,” Page said. “UAE authorities seem absolutely committed to squelching any and all manner of peaceful dissent, whether expressed today or in the past.” 

Sudan: Put Justice Up Front

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 9, 2019
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A protester wearing a Sudanese flag flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris on road 60, near Khartoum's army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, June 3, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo

Sudanese leaders should facilitate the establishment and cooperate with the work of an effective international investigation into the killings of and abuses against protesters since December 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 5, 2019, a coalition of opposition groups and the Transitional Military Council, which took power on April 11 when former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power, signed a power-sharing deal that paves the way for a transitional government.

“With hundreds killed and many more injured, the Sudanese people are entitled to demand answers and justice,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A credible, independent investigation into all the horrific abuses against protesters over the past six months needs to be a priority for Sudan’s new leaders.”

Under the July 5 deal, a new sovereign council consisting of five military representatives, five civilians, and another civilian agreed upon by both parties will share power for a transitional period of just over three years. A military commander is to hold the presidency for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian for 18 months, followed by elections. 

Protests in Sudan started in December, calling for the fall of al-Bashir, who was president for almost 30 years and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities in Darfur. Local groups monitoring casualties, including the opposition doctors’ union, estimated that over 100 people were killed during the protest period up to the time when al-Bashir was ousted.

Since the military council’s April takeover, the Rapid Support Forces have risen to prominence and participated in or led most crackdowns on protesters. The unit is commanded by the military council’s deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – “Hemeti” – who is known for his unit’s abuses in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

In June alone, government forces including the Rapid Support Forces killed over 130 protesters. The single deadliest day was June 3, when government forces led by RSF opened fire on protesters and burned down their sit-in camp. Video evidence shows the heavy deployment of security forces using heavy gunfire, and many victims of gunshot wounds. Local monitors reported that 128 people were killed in that attack. Witnesses, including many victims, provided to Human Rights Watch accounts of soldiers arbitrarily arresting and beating protesters. Local monitors reported that troops raped many protesters or threatened them with rape.

On June 30, when tens of thousands of Sudanese marched calling for a transition to civilian rule, government forces again used deadly force to break up protests. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Rapid Support Forces soldiers shot at them as they crossed a bridge. “We lay on the ground and I could see people were shot and being carried to a nearby hospital,” recalled one 29-year-old protester.

Video evidence from that day shows security forces opening fire on and beating peaceful protesters as well as attacking patients and health workers at a hospital in Khartoum. Local monitors said that at least 11 people were killed, including 3 young men whose slain bodies were found by residents on a street in Omdurman following the protests. 

Military council officials have previously promised to investigate violence against protesters. On June 21, Hemeti announced the arrest of several soldiers he called infiltrators who are accused of attacking protesters on June 3, but he did not reveal their identities, as the military investigations are ongoing. On June 29, an official leading a governmental commission of inquiry urged members of the public to come forward between July 6 and 10 to provide their accounts of abuses.

The July 5 power sharing deal also includes an investigation into the violence, including on June 3, media reported. Any investigation should include all abuses against protesters since December, when the government began attacking protesters, Human Rights Watch said.

Previous government investigations into protester killings in September 2013, when security forces killed more than 170 people, most in Khartoum, have not led to justice for the victims. Given Sudan’s poor record on accountability for human rights abuses across the country, its leaders should cooperate with international and regional entities to assist in any efforts toward accountability, Human Rights Watch said.

“Sudan’s leaders should show they are serious about justice by facilitating an international, independent investigation to assess the full scale of abuses and identify those responsible,” Henry said. “Sudan should cooperate with the UN’s Human Rights Council, currently in session, and with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to ensure that credible investigations are carried out as soon as possible.”

Syria: US Coalition Should Address Civilian Harm

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 9, 2019
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Destroyed house from US-led coalition strike that killed 13 civilians in Tal al-Jayer, Syria in July 2017.

© 2019 Sara Kayyali/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – The United States-led coalition against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) should address the harm to civilians during military operations in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Independent investigators have reported that coalition airstrikes killed at least 7,000 civilians in military operations in Iraq and Syria since September 2014.

The coalition apparently provided approximately US$80,000 to victims of a January 2019 attack that killed 11 civilians, including 4 children from the same family. However, Human Rights Watch investigations into 4 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes in al-Hasakeh governorate in 2017-2018, which killed 63 civilians and damaged and destroyed property, resulted in no compensation or payments to victims. On March 23, the coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the allied Kurdish-led forces, announced that they had seized control of the last ISIS pocket in Syria.

“While active fighting against ISIS may be over, civilians harmed by coalition strikes are still suffering,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The coalition should extend the payments made in January to civilians harmed in other actions in Syria.”

The coalition has not thoroughly investigated the attacks that killed civilians or created a program for compensation, “condolence” (or ex gratia) payments, or other assistance to civilians who suffered harm from coalition operations. The US Defense Department has attributed the lack of such payments to “practical limitations” and “limited US presence, which reduces the situational awareness required to make ex gratia payments.”

The condolence payments following the January 3 air attack in al-Khushkieh, Deir el-Zor show that the coalition can provide prompt assistance to affected families. These payments were agreed upon after a January 28 meeting of members of the coalition and the SDF with representatives of the families, local officials, and leaders from the Shu’eitat tribe, a prominent tribe in Syria, according to local officials, residents, and local news reports.

Human Rights Watch conducted field investigations in February for four coalition airstrikes from 2017 and 2018 in northeast Syria that resulted in the deaths of several dozen civilians. One airstrike may have been carried out by the Iraqi air force, a coalition partner that has also conducted unilateral strikes.

Three of the strikes appeared to be unlawfully indiscriminate, not distinguishing between military targets and civilians. The fourth appeared to cause disproportionate civilian harm compared to the expected military gain. None of the victims’ relatives said they received payment or assistance. On May 29, the coalition responded to Human Rights Watch inquiries, indicating that it had not assessed civilian casualties in three of these strikes but would. It said it had opened an assessment into the June 12, 2018 strike.

“That strike took most of our men,” said a woman whose husband and sons died in an August 2017 attack on a mosque. “They died, and now their women and children are left to fend for themselves. The women without husbands are living together, and we have no one to support us. The few men that are left try to get a job but it is very far and very difficult.”

The US and some other coalition members have made payments to victims of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, not as compensation for wrongdoing but as a voluntary gesture to ease civilian suffering. They are referred to as condolence or ex gratia payments, to emphasize that there is no legal obligation to make them. While the US Congress authorized the Defense Department in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to make condolence payments to civilians in Syria in December 2016, the process for making claims has not been defined.

The US should promptly develop a standardized condolence payment process and conduct outreach as feasible with affected communities to explain and publicize the process. The process should allow safe and convenient avenues to submit claims in the person’s preferred language and should identify local partners as facilitators. Condolence payments should reflect the circumstances, needs, and preferences of affected civilians. Options may include public acknowledgement, apologies, monetary payments, and livelihood assistance.

No other coalition member has apparently provided compensation or condolence payments in Syria, despite some acknowledging their strikes killed civilians. The United Kingdom maintains that its strikes in Raqqa and Mosul did not harm civilians. Australia only recently acknowledged civilian casualties in its airstrikes in Iraq. This raises concerns about the extent to which coalition forces are adequately tracking and assessing civilian harm, and whether lessons are being learned to prevent and mitigate future civilian harm.

Coalition members should coordinate their efforts to create a unified system to track, assess, and investigate reports of civilian casualties and to provide prompt and equitable condolence payments and other forms of amends, Human Rights Watch said. In cases in which coalition forces are found to have committed laws-of-war violations, appropriate compensation should be swiftly paid to the victims or their families.

“For the civilians who suffered under ISIS rule to rebuild their lives, the coalition should include condolence payments to those families who were harmed by their military operations,” Fakih said. “Providing victims of airstrikes with some help for their suffering would be an important step.”

Al-Hasakeh Governorate Airstrikes, 2017-2018

In three of the four airstrikes, coalition forces struck civilians and civilian objects where there was no evident military target. Such attacks are unlawfully indiscriminate under the laws of war. In the 2017 Al-Helo incident, coalition forces evidently took inadequate precautions to determine whether those attacked were civilians or fighters. The attack on a mosque filled with civilians was disproportionate in that the civilian loss exceeded any expected military gain from attacking three ISIS fighters.

Tal al-Jayer village July 4 or 5, 2017

GPS Coordinates: 41°1'56"E 36°3'38"N (MGRS: 37SFV 83039 92584)

On July 4 or 5, 2017, shortly after midnight, apparent US-led coalition airstrikes hit the compound of Zarkan Khalif Salem, a sheep trader in the village of Tal al-Jayer, al-Hasakeh, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The strike hit the main house, killing a 90-year-old woman and a child, and wounding at least three other civilians. The family had been sleeping on the roof or on a nearby patio. Residents said that immediately afterward, a second strike hit a building nearby where Salem kept his sheep, killing about 40 sheep.

Fifteen minutes later, a rescuer arrived by motorcycle. He went to get a pickup truck for the wounded, the rescuer’s brother said. When he returned 15 to 20 minutes later, the plane struck his pickup, killing him and 10 other civilians. The brother of another victim said that six of those dead in the second strike were rescuers, and the remaining five were members of the family being rescued. Witnesses provided the victims’ names.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and confirmed that three independent structures, including a house and vehicle, had been struck and partially destroyed. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that between 10 a.m. on July 4 and 10 a.m. on July 5, 2017, there were three incidents corresponding to the witness statements. Expand

Satellite image taken July 5, 2017 of US-led coalition airstrike locations in Tal al-Jayer compound that killed 13 civilians.

Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Imagery © DigitalGlobe-Maxar Technologies 2019; Sources: EUSI, Google Earth.

The imagery reflects the apparent detonation of two large air-dropped munitions destroying two buildings in the north part of the compound corresponding to the structure that witnesses said was the house. The detonation of two, possibly three, smaller air-dropped munitions destroying one building and severely damaging a second in the south part of the compound corresponded to the sheep’s location. And a third reflects a probable airstrike on a vehicle, with damage signatures consistent with the detonation of a small munition.

Relatives and witnesses said there were no ISIS fighters among the house’s residents or ISIS bases nearby. They said the closest known military target was an SDF base 9 to 10 kilometers away.

The coalition reviewed the strike following a report by Airwars, an independent civilian casualties monitor, and found on May 31, 2018 that “[a]fter a review of available information it was assessed that no coalition strikes were conducted in the geographical area that correspond to the report of civilian casualties.” However, local residents said they saw the planes attacking. No other force was conducting airstrikes in the region as Iraq only began unilateral strikes in April 2018, and the Syrian-Russian military alliance was not operating in that area at the time. On May 29, 2019, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that it had opened an assessment into the alleged attack.

Family members and residents said that as of February 9, no official from the US-led coalition or the SDF had visited the site.

Al-Helo village, August 19, 2017

GPS Coordinates: 41°5'27"E 36°5'29"N (MGRS: 37SFV 88239 96098)

On August 19, 2017, at about 3:45 p.m., a US-led coalition airstrike hit the only mosque in al-Helo village, 16 kilometers from the Iraqi border. Witnesses said they heard the plane before the strike and watched as the mosque was hit. They said the mosque, with mud walls, was struck once and destroyed, and the plane circled over the village for about a half hour afterward.

The village is near an oil rig that ISIS controlled and guarded but was otherwise in a remote area. The strike completely destroyed the mosque, witnesses said, and killed at least 24 people inside for afternoon prayer. They said there were 21 civilians, whose names they provided, and 3 ISIS fighters who had guarded the rig.

Most of the village’s inhabitants are from the al-Jazza` family. The father of one victim said that there was no fighting in the vicinity at the time, though media reports indicate that the village was on the front lines. Witnesses indicated that ISIS occupied a house on the village outskirts, where the three ISIS fighters, who were Syrian but not local, had stayed.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and observed damage consistent with the destruction of a single structure. Satellite imagery reviewed confirmed that a single building had been destroyed by the probable detonation of an air-dropped munition between about 10 a.m. on August 18 and 10 a.m. on August 20.

The father of one of the civilians killed said: “Nothing was left. I could not even find my son’s body. No one escaped alive. I could have been in that mosque that day. It could have taken us all.”

Residents said that many of the relatives of men killed in the strike – old men, widows, and children – have been unable to get jobs or provide for themselves without their heads of families. They have been forced to share accommodation and scarce resources.

The official website of the coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve says that the coalition carried out a civilian casualty assessment of the strike but concluded that the media reports submitted to the coalition contained insufficient information of the time, location, and details to assess their credibility. As well as Human Rights Watch can determine, no other military force was conducting airstrikes in the region at the time. Residents said that as of February 9 no official from the SDF or the US-led coalition had investigated or contacted them, and the families affected did not know how to file a claim. On May 29, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that based on information provided they would assess the allegations.

Al-Helo village, June 4, 2018

GPS Coordinates: 41°5'22"E 36°5'46"N (MGRS: 37SFV 88096 96619)

On or around June 4, 2018 at 5 a.m., an airstrike hit a house on the outskirts of al-Helo village, killing 15 civilians, including 10 children, and injuring 2 more, according to witnesses and relatives of victims. Both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces reported engagements near al-Shaddadi, where al-Helo village is located, at this time, Airwars reported.

Witnesses said that the plane dropped one large and later two smaller munitions. The first strike killed 9 of the 17 civilians in the house. Three survivors fled and were then hit in a strike outside the house. A third strike killed a man and two of his children who had survived the initial strike and were attempting to flee.

Witnesses said that they were concerned about follow-up strikes so only went to the strike site around 5 p.m. Only two victims there survived.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9 and could identify a large crater where a house had been. Satellite imagery reviewed showed the destruction of a single building from detonation of at least one large air-dropped munition between about 10:30 a.m. on June 3 and 10:30 a.m. on June 4, 2018. Two additional detonation sites were identified during the same period corresponding to witness accounts. Expand

Satellite image taken June 6, 2018 of US-led coalition airstrike locations in al-Helo village.

Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Imagery © DigitalGlobe-Maxar Technologies 2019; Sources: EUSI, Google Earth.

Human Rights Watch spoke to one survivor of the attack and a witness from the village. They said that no ISIS fighters were in the house, which was located on a road leading to the oil rig under ISIS control. ISIS members guarding the rig often used the road.

One of the survivors said she had received medical treatment supported by the World Health Organization. However, she said that neither the SDF nor the coalition had contacted them or provided assistance, and that she did not know how to file a claim.

The coalition assessed the strike and found that “After a review of available information it was assessed that no coalition strikes were conducted in the geographical area that correspond to the report of civilian casualties.” On May 29, the coalition told Human Rights Watch that based on information provided they would assess the allegations.

Tal al-Jayer, June 12, 2018

GPS Coordinates: 41°1'42"E 36°2'47"N (MGRS: 37SFV 82717 90999)

On June 12, 2018, at approximately 9 p.m., several missiles hit a traditional one-story mud home in the small village of Tal al-Jayer, a survivor said. The strike killed 12 civilians, including 3 women and 6 children.

Human Rights Watch visited the site on February 9. The village is in a remote area with houses far apart. The house that was hit was part of a compound with two other structures nearby where the rest of the extended family lived. The survivor said that the first missile hit the living room of the house, where the 12 people who were killed were seated:

For a while I couldn’t hear or see anything, I was completely covered in dust. Then I heard crying. Children calling out, “baba, mama.” I slowly pulled myself out of the rubble, it took maybe less than an hour. 

A second missile hit the same structure approximately an hour and a half later, at the door of the room, the survivor said. He said he did not believe the second missile caused any deaths, but that it destroyed the house. “But when the second rocket hit, no one dared to come help us until the next morning,” he said. “Everyone was afraid of the planes.” Expand

Hellfire missile remnant from US-led coalition airstrike on Tal al-Jayer, Syria on July 12, 2018.

© Private

 The survivor shared a photo of the remnant of one of the munitions, which Human Rights Watch identified as a Hellfire missile.

Satellite imagery reviewed also showed an airstrike on the house between 10:30 a.m. on June 11 and 10:30 a.m. on June 12, 2018.

In addition to the 12 civilians who died, at least 5 wounded were taken to al-Hasakeh National Hospital. The survivor provided the names of those wounded and dead.

The survivor said that no family members at the compound were ISIS members. He and neighbors said there was no ISIS base in the village. ISIS fighters would pass through the village but did not maintain a permanent presence in the area. Earlier that evening, between 6 and 7:30 p.m., there were clashes near the house, but SDF forces had passed the house without incident, he said.

He believed the strike may have been targeting an ISIS member’s home that ISIS forces sometimes used about 500 meters away. When he later discussed the strike with SDF officials, they said that the attackers may have had the wrong coordinates. “Our house and the house where the ISIS member was present are both mud houses,” he said. “But they were 500 meters away from each other on opposite sides of the road.”

The UK authorities reported that an MQ-9 Reaper – an armed drone – had attacked an ISIS mortar position on June 12 in al-Shaddadi – an area in al-Hasakeh governorate that includes Tal al-Jayer – with a direct hit from a Hellfire missile, and coalition forces followed it up with a strike on a nearby building. The US reported that on June 12, three strikes near Shadaddi engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying two ISIS fighting positions and three ISIS lines of communication.

The US also acknowledged receipt of a civilian casualty report from Airwars regarding the incident and on April 22 the coalition told Human Rights Watch that it had opened a civilian casualty assessment into the allegation.

The survivor said that two days after the strike he had complained to the local SDF headquarters about the strike and a looting incident afterward. He said he received a non-committal response that they would look into it. No member of the SDF or the US-led coalition had contacted him or visited the site of the strike to investigate, but he indicated that the SDF had returned a bag of grain from the looted supplies.

He also filed with the Syrian government to obtain death certificates for those killed. On June 12, the Syrian government wrote a letter to the United Nations secretary-general and the UN Security Council criticizing the Tal al-Jayer attack and calling on the Security Council to condemn such attacks and take action to stop them.

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