IHRP external news feeds

What Happens Next? Looking Into Enforcement Solutions Over Hungary’s Human Rights Abuses

Opinio Juris - Tuesday, September 3, 2019
[Todd Carney is a student at Harvard Law School. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Communications. He has also worked in digital media in New York City and Washington D.C.] In September 2018, the European Union (EU) Parliament voted to censure Hungary in response to Hungary’s laws that cracked down on institutions such as the media,...

Cameroon: Separatist Leaders Appeal Conviction

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, September 3, 2019
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Sisiku Ayuk Tabe was sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court in Cameroon on August 20, 2019.

© Youtube

(Nairobi) – Ten leaders of the separatist Ambazonia Interim Government in Cameroon lodged an appeal on August 26, 2019, against their August 20 convictions and life sentences by a military court following a trial that raises serious concerns of due process and violations of fair-trial rights.

Although the trial, on charges including terrorism, rebellion, and secession, commenced in December 2018, all the alleged evidence against the men was only presented to the defense in court during a single 17-hour overnight hearing that started on August 19. The court admitted thousands of pages of statements and documents as evidence against the accused and over 1,000 items of forensic evidence, such as guns, spears, and laptops, that defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch they did not know about and were unable to examine, discuss with their clients, or effectively challenge.

“It appears that the military court handed down a hasty verdict and sentence without giving the accused any meaningful opportunity to defend themselves,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This process has been plagued by pretrial abuses and serious allegations of fair-trial breaches that warrant independent and impartial judicial review, which we hope will happen under appeal.”

The trial, which was conducted in French without adequate translation though the defendants were entitled to a trial in English, their mother tongue and an official language in Cameroon, took place after serious violations of the defendants’ rights in detention. Defense lawyers accused the judges of bias and withdrew from the proceedings after the main military judge threatened them with arrest for raising objections.

Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, head of what is known as the “Ambazonia government,” and nine other leaders had been arrested in January 2018 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and forcibly returned to Cameroon, in an extrajudicial transfer that was denounced by the United Nations Refugee Agency as violating the fundamental principle of non-refoulement – the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers back to a country where they risk persecution, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The forced return of the 10 leaders was also declared illegal by a Nigerian court in March 2019. The men were then held in incommunicado detention at the State Defense Secretariat detention facility (Secrétariat d’État à la défense, SED) for six months, during which they had no access to their lawyers and families. Human Rights Watch has documented that torture and other abuses are endemic at the SED.

Fru John Nsoh, lead counsel for the separatist leaders, told Human Rights Watch that while the trial of his clients started in December 2018, all hearings prior to August 19 focused on peripheral procedural matters. He said that defense lawyers had no prior knowledge of the evidence presented to the court by the prosecution, and were not given any chance to view, comment, or object to the evidence, nor were they permitted to cross examine the four witnesses called by the prosecution.

The men were also tried before a military tribunal, despite international standards deeming the trial of civilians in military courts, in principle, to be incompatible with the right to a fair trial. Cameroon has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee for prosecuting civilians before military tribunals. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also repeatedly reinforced that under regional human rights standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the trial of civilians in military courts is prohibited without exception, and that the only purpose of military courts should “be to determine offences of a purely military nature committed by military personnel.”

The crisis unfolding in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions broke out around October 2016, when students, teachers, and lawyers from the region took to the streets to demand greater respect for their rights. In response, security forces unlawfully killed and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters, escalating the crisis. Since then, numerous separatist groups have emerged, taking up arms and calling for the independence of the North-West and South-West regions, which they call “Ambazonia.”

Armed separatists have committed numerous abuses against civilians, including kidnappings for ransom, torture, and unlawful killings. They have also attacked dozens of school buildings and occupied them. They have also enforced a boycott of schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children since 2017. Human Rights Watch cannot comment on the credibility of the charges brought against the men in connection with any crimes committed by armed separatists.

The Cameroon military court also ordered the 10 men to pay fines totalling 262 billion CFA francs (US$442,000) for civil damages and court costs.

“To conduct a trial with these kinds of due process violations is no way to uphold rule of law and human rights in the midst of an escalating crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon,” Mudge said. “The Cameroonian authorities should focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of its Anglophone population and make sure that members of the security forces who are responsible for abuses are held accountable.”

Lebanon: End Systemic Violence Against Transgender Women

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, September 3, 2019
September 3, 2019 Video Lebanon: End Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women

Transgender women in Lebanon face systemic violence and discrimination. Transgender women face discrimination in accessing basic services, including employment, healthcare, and housing, as well as violence from security forces and ordinary citizens. 

 

(Beirut) – Transgender women in Lebanon face systemic violence and discrimination, Human Rights Watch, Helem, and MOSAIC said in a report and video released today. Transgender women face discrimination in accessing basic services, including employment, healthcare, and housing, as well as violence from security forces and ordinary citizens.

For the 119-page report, “‘Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am’: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Helem and MOSAIC, interviewed 50 transgender women in Lebanon, including 24 Lebanese trans women, 25 trans refugees and asylum seekers from other Arab countries, and one stateless trans woman, as well as human rights activists, representatives of international agencies, lawyers, academics, and healthcare professionals who work with trans individuals in Lebanon. September 3, 2019 Report “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”

Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon

“This groundbreaking report shows the ever-present violence and discrimination against trans women in Lebanon,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Confronted by ignorance and hostility from society, trans women also face violence and abuse from the security forces and government that are meant to protect them and their rights.”

Exclusion of trans people is exacerbated by a lack of resources tailored for their needs and by the difficulties they face in obtaining identification documents that reflect their gender identity and expression. Discrimination is often worse for trans refugees, who are already marginalized.

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Miriam, a trans woman living in Bourj Hammoud in Beirut, has been arrested, shot at, arbitrarily dismissed, and denied housing on the basis of her gender identity.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

The report shows that the discrimination transgender women face begins at home. Interviewees reported incidents of family violence, including physical and sexual assault, being locked in a room for extended periods, and being denied food and water. Many trans women were pushed out of their homes, and in the case of refugees and asylum seekers, their countries, yet they felt they had no recourse to the law. There are no shelters providing emergency housing for trans women, leaving them to navigate the informal, expensive, and often discriminatory Lebanese housing market on their own. Trans women reported facing discrimination by landlords, flatmates, and neighbors, in addition to being forcibly evicted by the police because of their gender identity.

Many trans women said that they do not feel safe in public. They told the researcher that security forces often subject them to harassment at checkpoints, arrest, or violence because of their appearance, in some cases amounting to torture. While Lebanese law does not criminalize being transgender, article 534 of the penal code, which criminalizes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” has been regularly enforced against trans women. Trans people are also arrested on charges such as “violating public morality” and “incitement to debauchery.” Trans women detained under such laws reported being placed in men’s cells and made to give coerced confessions.

Further, members of the public harass and physically assault trans women with impunity, the report found. Many transgender women said they are forced to hide who they are to survive. One trans woman said that walking through Beirut in daytime “feels like boiling water is being poured on me.”

Nearly all interviewees recounted being denied jobs because of their appearance. For trans refugees and asylum seekers, this discrimination is compounded by their lack of legal residency, which limits their ability to work in Lebanon.

Many transgender women also face discrimination when seeking medical care, including being denied treatment because of their gender identity. One trans woman said: “I got really sick and had to be taken to the hospital. When I got there, I was spitting blood, but they refused to let me in because I am trans… I could have died at the hospital door.”

Trans women said one of the main obstacles to being able to access basic services was their inability to get identification papers that reflect their gender identity and expression. Trans people in Lebanon can only change their names and gender markers on official documents through a court ruling, often following a “gender dysphoria” diagnosis and surgery, which is expensive and sometimes unwanted. Many trans women are also deterred from seeking rulings due to high fees, lack of legal assistance, and protracted court proceedings.

In January 2016, an appeals court ruled that a transgender man could change his name and gender marker, overruling a lower court, and citing the right to privacy under article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The court found that gender affirming surgery should not be a prerequisite to gender identity recognition, but this does not set a binding legal precedent.

Lebanon should act swiftly to end the systemic discrimination and violence against transgender women. Lebanese security forces should stop arresting trans women based on their gender identity and instead protect them from violence, including by holding the perpetrators to account. The Lebanese government should enact legislation protecting against discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and establish a simple, administrative process allowing transgender people to change their names and gender markers on documents based on self-declaration, as is the practice in countries ranging from Argentina to Malta to Pakistan.

Donors and international agencies should fund trans-led initiatives to provide much needed services such as health care, legal aid, and income-generating activities. They should also fund emergency shelters for transgender women across Lebanon.

“Trans women in Lebanon have been forced to hide who they are just to survive, but the government can no longer claim ignorance of the violence and discrimination they face,” Fakih said. “By sharing their stories, trans women are demanding that the government see them and give them equal access to livelihoods, services, and protection.”

Selected Evidence

Randa, a 25-year-old Syrian trans woman, told Human Rights Watch that she spent five months and five days in detention, much of it underground in Roumieh – “no sun, no air” – after Internal Security Forces officers arrested her for sodomy:

They interrogated me from midnight until 5 a.m. They beat me nonstop and kept trying to make me tell them names of other LGBT individuals. They barely gave me food or water for 10 days. They didn’t let me call a lawyer or assign me one. They shaved my head. They tied me up to a chair with my hands cuffed behind my back. Every time the officer would ask me a question and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ he smacked me across the face. Another officer would come and put out his cigarette on my arm. I got sick while I was detained and I could barely stand up, and I asked for a doctor. They said, ‘Leave him to rot and die.’ Not only was there harassment from the police, but also other detainees. They cursed me and verbally harassed me the whole time I was there – they referred to me as ‘the faggot.’

Trans women face immediate discrimination when seeking employment due to the mismatch between their gender expression and the name and gender on their identity documents. The barriers to changing gender markers on official documents reinforce trans women’s economic marginalization. Elsa, 50, said:

My problem is my ID, they would never hire me, because I look like a ciswoman [a person who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth], no one would doubt that, but my ID says male. I went and applied for retail jobs everywhere in Beirut, they say, ‘Okay madame, bring your papers tomorrow and you can start.’ As soon as they see my ID, they don’t hire me. If I could explain my situation to them, that would be easier, but no one here knows or accepts what it means to be transgender. I tried four times in Bourj Hammoud, twice in Dekweneh, and for a woman my age, the embarrassment and humiliation are just too much.

While trans women’s access to formal employment is limited, their participation in the informal labor market denies them any protection when they are abusively dismissed. Lola, a 42-year-old Lebanese trans woman, said:

At my last job, at the airport, my hair was very long, but I put it in a bun and wore a cap, but they still insisted I cut it all off, and I just couldn’t, so they fired me. The security officers at the airport were not okay with me having long hair, that’s the reason they gave me. This was after three months of waking up at 5 a.m. to get to work at 6 a.m. and I worked until 7 p.m. every day, they paid me $400. I accepted that so that I can work and not be on the streets, and then they fired me.

In Lebanon, trans people struggle to obtain documents that match their identities. Diana, a 27-year-old Lebanese trans woman, said:

I threw my ID in the trash and applied for a new one. I told them I lost it. I had to go to my hometown, to the mukhtar, I swear around a dozen times just to have them put my picture on an ID as I look now. I got so much harassment, they asked me, ‘Why do you look like this? Aren’t you a man? You are disgusting.’ The mukhtar said he won’t start my papers until I cut my hair, and I had to bribe him so he would accept. Finally, after months of running around, they put my picture on my ID as I look now, but my name obviously stayed the same.

Lina, 28-year-old Iraqi trans woman, said:

Changing gender markers and names should be a normal process that doesn’t even require lawyers or medical professionals. I don’t need to ‘prove’ to anyone that I’m a woman, it’s just an internal feeling.

 

Another Unexplained Death in Pakistan Police Custody

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 2, 2019

While robbing a cash machine in Faisalabad, Pakistan, last week, Salahuddin Ayubi cheekily stuck his tongue out at the surveillance camera. His act got him a lot of media attention – and got him arrested on August 30 Expand

A Pakistani police officer monitors the area during a Shiite Muslim's Muharram procession in Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

Two days later, Ayubi was dead. His family says that he was killed in custody.

In a leaked video of Ayubi in police custody in Rahim Yar Khan district, Punjab province, he initially appears fine. But since his death police say that Ayubi had been behaving like a “mad man” when he suddenly fell unconscious, and was dead by the time he was taken to a hospital. Ayubi’s family said he had a mental health condition and had his address tattooed on his arms so that the family could be informed in case of an emergency. The police never contacted them. On September 2, Ayubi’s father filed a criminal case against three police officials alleging that his son was tortured to death.

Ayubi’s death is the latest example of the widespread problem of custodial deaths in Punjab province. While the police typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, illness, or accident, victims’ family members who come forward frequently allege that the deaths were the result of torture or other ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch research has found that those from marginalized groups are particularly at risk of police abuse.

While Pakistan does not have any domestic laws criminalizing torture, Pakistan’s Constitution does prohibit the use of torture for extracting evidence. But criminal suspects and their families justifiably worry about torture in custody, especially given the lack of accountability for police officers who commit abuses.

As the leaked video goes on to show, Ayubi asks his interrogators: “Who taught you these torture methods?” It is a question the authorities also need to ask if they want to put an end to torture.

Suspending UK Parliament Is A Danger to Human Rights

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 2, 2019

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The EU and Union flags flying outside Parliament in Westminster, London. September 5, 2017.

© 2017 Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Parliament shuttered for five weeks. Threats by senior ministers to ignore the rule of law. And a government seemingly determined to leave the European Union on October 31 without any deal in place, bringing with it disastrous consequences for the rights of people in the UK and beyond.

It’s hard to overstate the dangers the UK faces at present. Three issues stand out.

First, the government’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks. Suspensions for a few days happen most years, but it is reckless to suspend Parliament when the country faces such a grave situation. And to do so merely because Parliament is seeking to hold Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to account over the dangers of no-deal Brexit shows contempt for the checks and balances necessary to protect human rights.

Second, statements by not one but two Cabinet ministers, including a former justice minister, that if Parliament succeeds in passing a law to avoid a no-deal exit from the EU, the government may refuse to abide by the law. The government has also refused to rule out asking the Queen to withhold the formal approval necessary for it to become law. When a government refuses to respect correctly adopted laws by the legislature, the rule of law is under threat.

Third, despite mounting evidence of the deep harm that a no-deal Brexit will cause to people’s human rights in the UK—including disruptions to food and medicine, possible civil unrest, and deepening uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries—the government seems determined to see no-deal Brexit happen on October 31, no matter the cost.

There is still time to avoid no-deal Brexit. But not much. If legal challenges to avert suspension fail, Parliament could be suspended as early as September 9.

So this week is crucial if the UK is to reverse course on the government’s deeply worrying attempts to bypass rule of law and parliamentary scrutiny in its pursuit of no-deal Brexit.

The primary task for any government is to protect the rights of every person inside its borders. If it fails to do so, Parliament must be free to do its duty.

Syrians Deported by Lebanon Arrested at Home

Human Rights Watch - Monday, September 2, 2019
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Members of the Lebanese General Security Directorate oversee Syrian refugees boarding a bus to take them home to Syria, in the northern Beirut suburb of Burj Hammoud, Lebanon, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein   (Beirut) – At least three Syrians deported by Lebanon’s General Security back to Syria have been detained by the authorities upon their return, Human Rights Watch said today. General Security said it deported 2,731 Syrians between May 21 and August 28, 2019, following its May 13 decision to deport all Syrians who entered Lebanon irregularly after April 24, and directly handed them to the Syrian authorities. However, General Security has in at least three cases deported people who entered Lebanon before April 24. There is no evidence that any of the three could meaningfully challenge their deportation in a Lebanese court.

“Lebanon is putting Syrians at grave risk by returning them to the country they fled and handing them over to a government that is responsible for mass atrocities,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon is legally obligated to allow people to challenge their deportation and argue for protection. And it is forbidden by law to return anyone to face persecution or torture.”

Human Rights Watch has for years documented widespread patterns of arbitrary detention, torture, and deaths in Syrian government custody. Although active combat has ended in much of Syria, Human Rights Watch is still documenting arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and harassment in areas retaken by the government. People deported to Syria and their families are often afraid to speak publicly about their experiences.

General Security’s recent decision is based on the Higher Defense Council’s instruction to deport Syrians entering Lebanon through illegal border crossings. The Lebanese president heads the Higher Defense Council, which is responsible for implementing national defense strategy. These decisions appear to signal a policy shift in Lebanon, which has – with some exceptions – not forcibly returned refugees to Syria.

The deportation policy is one of several government measures that increased pressure on Syrian refugees to return, including forced demolition of refugee shelters and a crackdown on Syrians working without authorization. These coercive measures come amid xenophobic rhetoric from leading politicians calling for the return of Syrian refugees and claiming that Syria is safe.

As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone in danger of being tortured. Lebanon is also bound by the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement not to return people to places where they risk persecution.

On July 31, Human Rights Watch requested information from the president’s office and General Security regarding the legal basis for the recent decisions to deport Syrians, the deportation process, and the measures to ensure that those who are deported to Syria are not subject to persecution or mistreatment. Human Rights Watch has not received a response.

Human Rights Watch spoke with one Syrian who was deported by General Security and two whose relatives were deported. All the names have been changed to protect their identities.

“Adel” told Human Rights Watch that his brother, “Rami,” was arrested at a checkpoint in late May 2019 and transferred to General Security’s facility in the northern city of Tripoli. Adel saw his brother in detention, and officers assured him that Rami would not be deported but sent to Beirut and released. However, Adel lost touch with his brother a few days later. For 20 days, Rami’s family did not know his whereabouts. In mid-June, Adel received a call from someone detained with Rami in Syria, who said Rami was held in Tartous and would be transferred to Damascus the next day. The family has not received news about Rami since.

Although the deportation directive should have only applied to Syrians who entered after April 24, Rami had been in Lebanon since June 2017 and was known to the authorities. In 2018, security agents arrested Rami for belonging to the Free Syrian Army. He was detained pretrial at Roumieh prison for around nine months until a court found him innocent and released him.

“Abdallah,” a reporter for the Syrian opposition who had been in Lebanon since May 2018, was also detained in Syria after General Security deported him and handed him to the Syrian authorities. Abdallah told Human Rights Watch that the Lebanese Army arrested him in Tripoli on June 4, 2019. He was transferred to General Security’s custody two days later, where an interrogator asked for his identification documents and his date of entry. Abdallah said he had entered Lebanon before April 24, that his neighbors could confirm this, and that he feared returning to Syria given his opposition activism. However, the interrogator insisted on deporting him.

Abdallah said General Security detained him for six days, then handed him to the Syrian border authorities. He was transferred to several security branches in Syria before a judge sent him to Tartous Central Prison. Abdallah said he paid a large sum of money to a lawyer who secured his release, but is still wanted by the security agencies and is therefore trying to leave Syria again.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with “Tarek,” whose brother “Ali” was deported in July. Ali was registered with the UN refugee agency and had been living in Lebanon for several years, though he returned to Syria for medical treatment and re-entered Lebanon in June. Tarek said Ali called and told him that State Security agents in the southern Lebanese town of Saida asked to see his residency documents. Ali did not have legal residency in Lebanon, but the agents said they would fix his paperwork and release him. Four days later, Ali was transferred from the State Security facility in Saida to Beirut.

Ali told the officials that he had been in Lebanon for a long time, but did not have evidence to prove that. Two days after arriving in Beirut, he was handed to the Syrian authorities at the Masnaa border crossing, Ali told Tarek. He was detained for 10 hours in Syria, then released and told to go to the Justice Palace in Daraa and the conscription authority within 15 days.

Lebanon has hosted an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees since 2011. Other countries should increase their assistance to Lebanon and resettle many more refugees living in Lebanon.

Lebanon should give anyone at risk of deportation to Syria the opportunity to see a lawyer, to meet with the UN refugee agency, and to present their argument against deportation in a competent court. Courts should prohibit any deportation that amounts to refoulement. The government should provide a regular, public accounting of deportations, including reasons for removal.  

“Other countries should step up resettlement programs and aid to ensure that Lebanon is not bearing the burden of hosting such a huge refugee population alone,” said Fakih. “However, there is no excuse for Lebanese authorities to violate international obligations and put people in harm’s way.”

Still No Law on Enforced Disappearance in Thailand

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, September 1, 2019

Once again, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30 has come and gone, marking another year Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to outlaw this heinous practice.  Expand

A sketch of Somchai Neelapaijit, a prominent Muslim human rights lawyer abducted in Bangkok on March 12, 2004.  © 2015 Prachatai

International law defines enforced disappearance as the detention of a person by state officials and a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand since 1980, including that of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in March 2004. Human Rights Watch believes the actual number is higher, as some families of victims and witnesses remain silent, fearing reprisals by the authorities if they speak out.

None of these cases have been resolved, and no one has been prosecuted.

A key reason for this is that Thailand’s penal code does not recognize enforced disappearance as a criminal offense. Thailand has signed but has yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

When Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha outlined his policy priorities for his second term in July, he did not even mention the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill – a measure the junta-appointed national assembly suspended consideration of in 2017 – among proposed laws to be introduced for parliamentary consideration.

The government’s much-discussed Committee to Receive Complaints and Investigate Allegations of Torture and Enforced Disappearance is just an administrative body with little authority or political backing to take serious action. The committee falls far short of what is needed to end torture and enforced disappearances.

Meanwhile, the authorities continue to engage in practices that facilitate enforced disappearances, such as the use of secret detention by anti-narcotics units, and secret military detention of national security suspects and suspected insurgents in the southern border provinces.

In recent years, dissidents who fled persecution in Thailand have been at risk of enforce disappearance in neighboring countries. In Laos, unidentified assailants abducted at least five Thai exiles; three were later found murdered and two others remain missing. In May, Vietnam allegedly forcibly returned three dissidents to Thailand who have since gone missing.

Thailand needs to meet its international obligations to address this terrible crime. Another year should not pass without justice for victims of enforced disappearance and their families.

Events and Announcements: September 1, 2019

Opinio Juris - Sunday, September 1, 2019
Announcement: Francis Lieber Prize 2020 The American Society of International Law’s Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict awards the Francis Lieber Prize to the authors of publications that the judges consider to be outstanding in the field of law and armed conflict. Both monographs and articles (including chapters in books of essays) are eligible for consideration — the prize...

A Rough Road Ahead to Peace in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch - Saturday, August 31, 2019
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Delegates attend the fourth day of the Afghan Loya Jirga meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

After 10 months of negotiations, the United States and the Taliban have reached an agreement to end their conflict in Afghanistan. That was the easy part.

The discussions that come next, a proposed intra-Afghan dialogue involving the Taliban, Afghan officials and other political actors, will be much tougher. They will determine how Afghans deal with the legacy of 41 years of war, and ultimately determine the fate of Afghanistan’s democratic system and its constitution, notably guarantees on human rights and women’s equality. Participants will need to agree on a government in Afghanistan that prevents the repetition of atrocities that fomented civil war in the past.

Facing US elections in 2020, Washington accelerated talks to reach an agreement that includes just a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces and Taliban assurances that no groups will be permitted to use Afghanistan to launch attacks on the US or its allies. Everything else is to be decided in the intra-Afghan talks.

Afghanistan’s international allies and donors should use their leverage and assistance to support measures to protect the rights of all Afghans in the difficult months ahead. The US and others should act to ensure in the talks full participation by women, a broad range of Afghans including civil society members, and those experienced in difficult negotiations over Afghanistan’s constitution and other legal reforms in the past.

Many of Afghanistan’s donors are frustrated by their 18-year involvement in the Afghan conflict and may be eager to close the books on Afghanistan. But a short-sighted focus on getting Afghanistan’s dominant political figures to agree to a deal without doing the hard work of bolstering an independent judiciary, safeguarding women’s rights, protecting media freedom, and determining how to disarm irregular militias would be a catastrophic mistake.

Navigating these key issues will take time and committed engagement. Failing to do so will put Afghanistan’s transition to peace at risk. 

Kashmir Shutdown Raises Healthcare Concerns

Human Rights Watch - Friday, August 30, 2019
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A paramilitary trooper stops an ambulance during the curfew in Srinagar, August 16, 2019.

© 2019 Saqib Majeed/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

“This is not a protest. This is a request,” read the placard Dr. Omar Salim was holding outside a government hospital in Srinagar last week. He wanted the Indian government to lift the shutdown on phones and internet in Jammu and Kashmir state, in place since August 5. He felt the blackout was preventing patients from obtaining government health benefits. For this, the police promptly detained him, according to various reports.

Salim is not alone in raising concerns that the security lockdown in Kashmir – which has restricted basic freedoms – is preventing people from getting proper health care.

In an August 16 letter in the medical journal BMJ, 19 doctors from across India asked the government to ease restrictions on communication and travel, saying they were “a blatant denial of the right to health care and the right to life” because they made it difficult for patients and staff to reach hospitals without hindrance. The British medical journal Lancet also raised concerns over the health and safety of Kashmiris under the lockdown.

Indian authorities claim the restrictions are necessary to save lives by preventing violent protests. However, the government’s broad and indefinite denial of basic communications not only violates the right to share and receive information, it also infringes on other rights, such as ensuring the highest obtainable standard of health.

For example, a journalist from Kashmir wrote about his sister who suffered a miscarriage: “The doctors at the hospital regret that the ban on communication prevented them from real time communication to the senior gynecologist that could have saved the baby.” On August 9, a stillborn baby was born to parents who, with the suspension of transport, had to walk to a district hospital after developing complications.

From chemotherapy to dialysis, patients are struggling to access lifesaving treatment on time. Salim explained that poorer patients are unable to receive free medical care under a government insurance scheme because that requires phone or digital connectivity to access records. Srinagar’s district magistrate, however, took to Twitter to “assure everyone there is no healthcare crisis in Kashmir,” adding “Difficulties not denied but truth has to be upheld.”

The Indian government’s actions in Kashmir cannot be at the expense of Kashmiris’ rights. Shutting down doctors who speak out is not going to solve the real problem of lives at risk. Instead, the authorities should take all necessary steps to ensure people are able to obtain health care and emergency services.

Trump Administration to Deport Sick Children, People with Disabilities

Human Rights Watch - Friday, August 30, 2019

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© Flickr

The Trump administration has axed a program that allowed immigrants with serious health conditions – including children and people with disabilities – and their families to remain in the United States while receiving life-saving medical treatment.

The “medical deferred action” program was recently eliminated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services without warning. Immigrants and visitors – and their families – are being notified by letter that they must leave the country within 33 days of receipt. For many immigrants, this means leaving critical medical care behind, which could prove to be a death sentence

The Trump administration previously acted to limit judges’ abilities to terminate deportation cases, particularly those involving sympathetic circumstances. This means that not only are thousands of immigrants with serious medical conditions at risk of deportation, but so too are their caretakers.

These policy changes are the latest example of the many ways in which the Trump administration has made life more difficult for children and people with disabilities.

Immigrants with disabilities and rare conditions sometimes come to the US explicitly to seek health care as a result of a lack of rehabilitation services and substandard medical treatment available in their home countries. They also come at the invitation of US physicians conducting clinical trials of new therapies. By removing allowances for immigrants in treatment, the Trump administration is endangering people’s rights to health and life.

UN Human Rights Council Should Address Human Rights Crisis in Cambodia at its 42nd Session

Human Rights Watch - Friday, August 30, 2019

Dear Excellency,

The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to request your support for a resolution ensuring strengthened scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”).

National elections in July 2018 were conducted after the Supreme Court, which lacks independence, dissolved the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Many believe that this allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen to secure all 125 seats in the National Assembly and effectively establish one-party rule. Since the election, respect for human rights in Cambodia has further declined. Key opposition figures remain either in detention – such as CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is under de facto house arrest – or in self-imposed exile out of fear of being arrested. The CNRP is considered illegal and 111 senior CNRP politicians remain banned from engaging in politics. Many others have continued to flee the country to avoid arbitrary arrest and persecution.

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Government authorities have increasingly harassed opposition party members still in the country, with more than 147 former CNRP members summoned to court or police stations. Local authorities have continued to arrest opposition members and activists on spurious charges. The number of prisoners facing politically motivated charges in the country has remained steady since the election. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets, and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

It is expected that a resolution will be presented at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for another two years. We strongly urge your delegation to ensure that the resolution reflects the gravity of the situation in the country and requests additional monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mandated OHCHR monitoring of the situation and reporting to the Council, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, would enable a comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia, identification of concrete actions that the government needs to take to comply with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, and would allow the Council further opportunities to address the situation.

Since the last Council resolution was adopted in September 2017, the situation of human rights in Cambodia, including for the political opposition, human rights defenders, and the media, has drastically worsened. Developments since the 2018 election include:

 

Crackdown on Political Opposition

On March 12, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. The charges were based on baseless allegations of conspiring to commit treason and incitement to commit felony. In September 2018, authorities transferred CNRP head Kem Sokha after more than a year of pre-trial detention in a remote prison to his Phnom Penh residence under highly restrictive “judicial supervision” that amounts to house arrest. Cambodian law has no provision for house arrest and there is no evidence that Sokha has committed any internationally recognizable offense.

During 2019, at least 147 arbitrary summonses were issued by the courts and police against CNRP members or supporters. Summonses seen by human rights groups lack legal specifics, containing only vague references to allegations that the person summoned may have violated the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the CNRP in November 2017.

 

Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters

In November 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that criminal charges would be dropped against all trade union leaders related to the government’s January 2014 crackdown on trade unions and garment workers in which security forces killed five people. However, the following month, a court convicted six union leaders – Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun, and Mam Nhim – on baseless charges and fined them. An appeals court overturned the convictions in May 2019, but in July 2019 the court announced its verdict in absentia convicting Kong Atith, newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of intentional acts of violence in relation to a 2016 protest between drivers and the Capitol Bus Company. The court imposed a three-year suspended sentence, which will create legal implications under Article 20 of the Law on Trade Unions, which sets out among others that a leader of a worker union cannot have a felony or misdemeanor conviction.

In December 2018, Thai authorities forcibly returned Cambodian dissident Rath Rott Mony to Cambodia. Cambodian authorities then prosecuted him for his role in a Russia Times documentary “My Mother Sold Me,” which describes the failure of Cambodian police to protect girls sold into sex work. He was convicted of “incitement to discriminate” and in July 2019 sentenced to two years in prison.  

In March 2018, the government enacted a lese majeste (insulting the king) clause into the Penal Code, and within a year four people had been jailed under the law and three convicted. All the lese majeste cases involved people expressing critical opinions on Facebook or sharing other people’s Facebook posts. The government has used the new law, along with a judiciary that lacks independence, as a political tool to silence independent and critical voices in the country.

In July 2019, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. The authorities charged both with incitement to commit a felony, a provision commonly used to silence activists and human rights defenders. Authorities arrested seven people in total for commemorating the anniversary; monitored, disrupted, or canceled commemorations around the country; and blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party on their way to Takeo province – Kem Ley’s home province.

 

Attacks on Journalists and Control of the Media

Prior to the July 2018 election, the Cambodian government significantly curtailed media freedom, online and offline. In 2017, authorities ordered the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies that aired independent news programs by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. RFA closed its offices in September 2017, citing government harassment as the reason for its closure. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air.

Since 2017, two major independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, were subjected to dubious multi-million-dollar tax bills, leading the Phnom Penh Post to be sold to a businessman with ties to Hun Sen and The Cambodia Daily to close.

Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. In May 2018, the government adopted a decree on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet and the Law on Telecommunications, which allow for arbitrary interference and surveillance of online media and unfettered government censorship. Just two days before the July 2018 elections, authorities blocked the websites of independent media outlets – including RFA and VOA – which human rights groups considered an immediate enforcement of the new decree. 

Since then, Cambodian authorities have proceeded with the politically motivated prosecution of two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. They were arrested in November 2017 on fabricated espionage charges connected to allegations that the two men continued to report for RFA after RFA’s forced closure of its Cambodia office. They were held in pre-trial detention until August 2018. Their trial began in July 2019 and a verdict on the espionage charges is expected late August. They face up to 16 years in prison.

***

The Cambodian government’s actions before and since the July 2018 election demonstrate a comprehensive campaign by the ruling CPP government to use violence, intimidation and courts that lack judicial independence to silence or eliminate the political opposition, independent media, and civil society groups critical of the government.

We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the human rights situation and the risks it poses to Cambodia’s fulfillment of its commitments to respect human rights and rule of law as set out in the Paris Peace Accords 1991. It is crucial that concerned states explicitly condemn the Cambodian government’s attacks on human rights norms and take steps to address them.

For these reasons, we call on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and outline actions the government should take to comply with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner should report to the Council at its 45th session followed by an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with participation of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures, and members of local and international civil society.

We further recommend that your government, during the Council’s September session, speaks out clearly and jointly with other governments against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

We remain at your disposal for any further information.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  6. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
  7. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
  8. Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
  9. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  10. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  11. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
  12. Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
  13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
  14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  15. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
  16. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  17. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
  18. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
  19. Fortify Rights
  20. Human Rights Now
  21. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  22. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  23. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  25. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  26. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  27. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF)
  28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

 

The U.S. Supreme Court on International Double Jeopardy

Opinio Juris - Friday, August 30, 2019
[Anthony J. Colangelo, Gerald J. Ford Research Fellow and Professor of Law, SMU Dedman School of Law.] The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gamble v. United States explicitly raised the question of double jeopardy in international cases by positing scenarios in which the United States may wish to successively prosecute after a prior prosecution in a foreign country for crimes...

Kuwait: Jailed Bidun Activists on Hunger Strike

Human Rights Watch - Friday, August 30, 2019
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Bidun residential area in Taima, al-Jahra, Kuwait. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – More than a dozen Bidun activists detained in Kuwait since July 2019 began a hunger strike on August 22 to protest human rights violations against themselves and the Bidun community, Human Rights Watch said today. Kuwaiti authorities should ensure that all detainees have adequate access to medical treatment.

“Kuwait’s authorities should unconditionally release all Bidun activists who are being held without a recognizable charge under international law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The continued detention of Bidun activists for their peaceful protests reveals the government’s intent to address this longstanding issue through abuse and coercion rather than respecting basic rights.”

Kuwait’s State Security agency began arresting activists from the stateless Bidun community on July 11 after they organized a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in the town of al-Jahra, near Kuwait City. The protest was in response to the death of Ayed Hamad Moudath, 20, who killed himself on July 7, after the government denied him civil documentation. The documentation is needed to apply for public services, as well as to study and to work.

Initial charges against the activists include spreading fake news, harming allied countries, joining a group that calls for the destruction of the country’s basic systems, calling for attacking national interests, calling for public gatherings, participating in public gatherings, and use of cellphones for abusive purposes. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that Kuwaiti authorities later reduced the charges to misuse of cellphones and calling for and joining an unauthorized gathering.

The detained activists, over a dozen of whom are on hunger strike, include Abdulhakim al-Fadhli, Awad al-Onan, Ahmed al-Onan, Abdullah al-Fadhli, Mutaib al-Onan, Muhammed al-Anzi, Yousef al-Osmi, ِNawaf al-Bader, Hamed Jamil, Jarallah al-Fadhli, Yousif al-Bashig, Ahmed al-Anzi, Hamoud al-Rabah, Khalifa al-Anzi, and Reda al-Fadhli.

The Bidun, a community of between approximately 88,000 to 106,000 stateless people who claim Kuwaiti nationality, remain in legal limbo, dating back to the foundation of the Kuwaiti state in 1961. After an initial period allowing them to register for citizenship, the authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of administrative committees that have avoided resolving the claims while maintaining sole authority to determine Bidun access to civil documentation and social services.

The government claims that most of the Bidun moved to Kuwait from neighboring countries in search of a better livelihood and hid their other nationalities to claim Kuwaiti citizenship. 

Indian State Bans Unnecessary Surgery on Intersex Children

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, August 29, 2019
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The Intersex flag. 

India’s Tamil Nadu state government has issued an executive order banning medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex variations.

“Intersex,” sometimes called “differences of sex development” in medical literature, refers to the estimated 1.7 percent of people born with sex characteristics – such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals – that differ from social expectations of female or male. Except in very rare cases when the child cannot urinate or internal organs are exposed, these variations are medically benign natural variations of human anatomy, and do not require surgery.

But in the 1960s, surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations on intersex children, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. These types of surgeries have since become common globally. United Nations human rights treaty bodies have condemned the operations 40 times since 2011.

The Tamil Nadu order comes in response to an April court judgment prohibiting “normalizing” surgeries until the patient is old enough to consent.

For decades, intersex advocates around the world have asked governments and the medical community to develop standards to defer surgical procedures until the patient can consent. But medical organizations have largely been unwilling to engage on the issue.

In Tamil Nadu, the Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons said the government must exclude intersex-related surgeries from the ban – effectively opposing the ban, which the government has so far ignored. While the order is promising, there’s still a long way to go to ensure the rights of intersex people.

The order bans genital surgeries except in “life-threatening situations,” and warns against surgeons deliberately misinterpreting that clause to continue performing medically unnecessary operations. A committee will be created to define this threshold.

Two seats on the committee are reserved for doctors, while one is for a “social worker/psychology worker/intersex activist,” and the other for a government representative. Given the lack of a guarantee that an intersex person will be present, the committee should avoid falling into the trap of ignoring intersex voices in favor of medical authority. 

Tamil Nadu has stepped out as a leader in respecting informed consent rights of intersex people. Their next steps should create a policy based on medical evidence and human rights.

Cluster Munitions: Ban Treaty Is Working

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, August 29, 2019
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The remnant of a payload section of a 9M275K-series 220mm cluster munition rocket in Idlib, Syria.

© 2019 Syria Civil Defense

(Geneva) – No state party to the 2008 treaty prohibiting cluster munitions has violated the prohibition on using these weapons, while very few outside the treaty engage in this banned activity either, Human Rights Watch said today during the release of the Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 report.

“With the glaring exception of Syria, which has yet to join the ban treaty, it appears that the stigma against cluster munitions is strong and sticking, even with those who haven’t signed on,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and an editor of the report. “It is in the interest of every country be on the right side of history by acting to prevent further human suffering from these indiscriminate weapons.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can maim and kill like landmines for years.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 is the tenth annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations co-founded and chaired by Human Rights Watch. The group works to ensure that all countries join and adhere to the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions and requiring clearance and victim assistance.

According to the report, the 106 states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are carrying out its provisions with vigor and determination. Another 14 countries have signed, but not yet ratified. There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by any state party since the treaty was adopted in 2008.

Yet Syrian government forces, with Russia’s assistance, continued to use cluster munitions in Syria. Neither is a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since mid-2012, the Monitor has recorded at least 674 cluster munition attacks in Syria, including at least 38 since July 2018. Russian forces deployed in Syria possess stockpiles of cluster munition, as documented in photographs published by media outlets.

While the number of reported cluster munition attacks has decreased since mid-2017 as Syrian government forces have regained areas previously held by opposition armed groups, the actual number is most likely far higher, and new use often goes unrecorded.

Cluster Munition Monitor could not independently confirm allegations of new cluster munition use in Libya, which is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The last country to accede to the treaty was Sri Lanka in March 2018. Its permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez, has prioritized expanding the treaty’s membership since taking over the presidency of the convention in September 2018, and three signatories have ratified since then: Gambia, Namibia, and the Philippines.

Since the convention was adopted on May 30, 2008, 35 states parties have destroyed a collective total of nearly 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions, 99 percent of all cluster munitions that states parties have reported stockpiling. 

Switzerland completed the destruction of its stockpile on March 19, while Botswana did so on September 18, 2018. They and states parties Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 1,079 cluster munitions and more than 46,000 submunitions during 2018.

“While the convention’s stockpile destruction provisions have been implemented with impressive results, Guinea-Bissau and Bulgaria are tarnishing the until-now clean compliance record,” Wareham said.

Guinea-Bissau missed its stockpile destruction deadline of May 1, 2019 and has been in violation of the convention since then. Bulgaria has given states parties a request to extend its October 1, 2019 stockpile destruction deadline by another 18 months, until April 1, 2021. It is the first state party to make such a request under the convention.

According to the new report, there were 149 casualties from cluster munitions in 2018, most from unexploded submunitions left-over from attacks. This is a continuation of the significant decline since 971 victims were reported in 2016.

There were 80 new casualties from cluster munitions in Syria in 2018, the lowest annual figure since the first victims were reported in the country in 2012. During 2018, Afghanistan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen also recorded new casualties from old cluster munition remnants.

A total of 144 countries, including 33 non-signatories, voted in December in favor of an annual United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Zimbabwe, which has not signed the treaty, was the only country to vote against the resolution, as Russia abstained for the first time, after voting no in 2015-2017.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2019 will be presented at the Ninth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which opens at the United Nations in Geneva on September 2.

Lebanon: Migrant Family Detained

Human Rights Watch - Thursday, August 29, 2019
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Members of the Lebanese General Security Directorate oversee Syrian refugees boarding a bus to take them home to Syria, in the northern Beirut suburb of Burj Hammoud, Lebanon, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s General Security has detained a Sudanese-Sri Lankan family of seven, including four children under age 18, threatening to deport the parents to different countries for lacking residency papers, the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) said today. General Security, the agency responsible for the entry and exit of foreigners, should free the family, pending the resolution of the family’s deportation proceedings, and should ensure that the family can remain together. If specific and compelling reasons exist to impose restrictions on the family, then General Security should take measures other than detention. In no case, however, should children be detained for migration-related purposes, as detention can be extremely harmful to them.

The father of the family is Sudanese, the mother is from Sri Lanka, and their five children were born and have always lived in Lebanon. The family does not have a regular migration status in the country.

The oldest child, 18, has been detained since February 14, 2019, at the General Security Directorate due to his irregular residency status. On July 3, General Security raided the family’s home in Beirut and detained the father, 57, his wife, 42, and their 5-year-old daughter, Beirut, whom they named due to their ties to the city. On July 4, the authorities also detained their three other sons, aged 11, 13, and 16, who had been left unattended when their parents were taken into custody.

“Detaining children causes them significant harm and should never be used for migration-related purposes,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “General Security should release them and their parents immediately and, if necessary, use less harmful alternatives to ensure that the family appears for proceedings.”

Amnesty International talked to the mother, currently held in a shelter run by Caritas Lebanon with her two youngest children. The mother said that her husband and three other sons are detained at a General Security facility. ARM, which provides legal and social support to migrant workers, has documented General Security’s practice of sending detained migrant women with young children to the Caritas facility.

“By detaining these children and threatening to split up their family the Lebanese authorities have displayed a chilling disregard for their rights. Holding children in detention centers subjects them to trauma and can cause considerable harm to their physical and psychological well-being. The protection of children’s rights and the principle of family unity must be the primary consideration for General Security,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director.

The children have no identity documents from Sudan or Sri Lanka and only possess birth certificates from a local Lebanese official stating that they were born on Lebanese territory.

The father told ARM that he left Sudan for Lebanon in 1995 to avoid military service there, after both his brothers were killed in the civil war. He said he was deported back to Sudan in 1998 and arrested, but was released after his father paid a bribe, and returned to Lebanon in 1999.

The mother, a Sri Lankan former domestic worker, told Amnesty International that she fled an abusive Lebanese employer almost 20 years ago, thus losing her regular migration status in Lebanon. She said that her employer beat her, confiscated her passport, and did not pay her wages for a year. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and ARM routinely document credible reports of abuses against migrant domestic workers, including non-payment of wages, forced confinement, and verbal and physical abuse.

The mother said that she fears retaliation by family members for converting to Islam and marrying a Muslim. There have been violent riots against Muslims in Kandy, Sri Lanka, her home town.

Both parents previously tried to register their refugee claims with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but their claims were not granted.

The father told ARM in July that General Security officials said the entire family would be deported and pressured him to sign a departure form indicating that he agreed to be returned to Sudan.  The mother told ARM in August that General Security officials informed her that she would be deported to Sri Lanka, and that her children would be deported with her husband to Sudan.

Children should never be detained, alone or with their families, for immigration purposes. UNHCR has found that even short-term detention with their families has a “profound and negative impact” on children, and concluded that “children should not be detained for immigration related purposes, irrespective of their legal/migratory status or that of their parents.”

Because of “the harm inherent in any deprivation of liberty and the negative impact that immigration detention can have on children’s physical and mental health and on their development,” the UN committee that interprets the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Lebanon ratified in 1991, has called for any deprivation of liberty based on a child’s migration status to be “prohibited by law and its abolishment ensured in policy and practice.”

Following the principle of family unity, authorities should not separate children from their parents unless separation is clearly in the best interests of each child. If restrictions to the liberty or freedom of movement of the parents are considered necessary in immigration cases, alternatives to detention for the entire family should be provided to respect children’s rights not to be detained while also not being separated from their parents, the UN special rapporteurs on torture and on migrants’ rights have stated.

To comply with its international human rights obligations, General Security should free the family, unless specific and compelling reasons make restrictions to the liberty of the parents necessary. In that case, alternatives to detention should be found for this family, the organizations said. Less harmful alternatives could include requirements to report to the authorities while their case is being considered. Crucially, in line with the principles of family unity and respect for the child’s best interests, the family should not be separated by being deported to different countries.

“Deportation may mean the permanent separation of this family, with no hope of reunification,” said Farah Salka, director of ARM. “General Security should release the family and ensure that they are not split apart by being deported to opposite ends of the world.”

 

India: Restore Kashmir’s Internet, Phones

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, August 28, 2019
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Journalists work inside a media center set up by Jammu and Kashmir authorities in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/ Dar Yasin  

(New York) – The Indian government’s lengthy shutdown of the internet and telephones in Jammu and Kashmir inflicts disproportionate harm on the population and should be immediately lifted, Human Rights Watch said today. The disruption to services since August 5, 2019, has exacerbated an information blackout, stopped families from communicating, prevented people from accessing medical services, and disrupted the local economy.

Indian authorities have said the restrictions are necessary to prevent the spread of false or incendiary information that could cause violent protests after the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutionally provided autonomous status. However, international human rights law prohibits broad, indiscriminate, and indefinite restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the right to free expression and to provide and receive information, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Indian government’s indefinite shutdown of phones and the internet in Kashmir is causing disproportionate harm and should be lifted immediately,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The restrictions are provoking anger, causing economic harm, and fueling rumors that are making a bad human rights situation even worse.”

In the Kashmir Valley and other Muslim majority areas, telephone service remains blocked and only a few landlines are working. Public access to phone services is available in some government offices but for Kashmiris to use them, they have to pass numerous security checkpoints and then wait their turn for several hours. Those living outside of Kashmir have been desperate for news of their loved ones.

In Srinagar, the summer capital, Kashmiris told Human Rights Watch that they were angry and worried about the impact of the security restrictions on daily life. “In effect, the government has placed all of us in prison,” a businessman said. “We cannot move freely. We cannot speak freely. Isn’t that prison?” One woman said she had heard her mother, who lives in another town, was unwell, but could not call her or meet her: “If you cannot call your family, meet your mother, how is that normal?”

The internet shutdown is depriving Kashmiris who depend on mobile messaging apps or email access to their livelihood. Traders cannot place or receive orders, tour operators cannot operate through their websites, students cannot complete course work, and journalists cannot file reports. One man said that he had not been able to pay his taxes: “It is all online now. That is what the government ordered. Then they shut down the internet. So now, will the government cover my late-payment penalties?”

A government doctor held a protest in Srinagar, saying that shutting the internet was preventing people, particularly the poor, from obtaining government health insurance, since it is linked to individual digital cards that need to be swiped to retrieve medical records. He was arrested, according to media reports.

The extended and broad shutdown of the internet affects essential activities and services, including emergency services and health information, mobile banking and e-commerce, transportation, school classes, reporting on major crises and events, and human rights investigations. The economic policy think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations reported that the 24 shutdowns of mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir state in 2017 cost the state $223 million.

The authorities contend that social media and internet-based mass messaging apps have fueled rumors leading to violence in Jammu and Kashmir in the past, and that the current restrictions have saved lives. Yet, while both those supporting and opposing the government’s decision have spread misinformation and espoused hate, Kashmiris say that the authorities have only targeted criticism of the government. For instance, many on social media outside of Jammu and Kashmir are using a red dot as a symbol of solidarity and resistance, and several such accounts have apparently been reported and taken down.

Indian law provides for online restrictions. In August 2017, the Indian government issued the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. These rules allow central and state governments to issue shutdown orders. Previously, the vast majority of shutdowns were ordered under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a colonial-era provision that gives state governments emergency powers to help contain law and order situations, such as by imposing curfews or preventing large assemblies to prevent unrest. Although the provision was meant to be applied mainly in emergencies, its broad language and lack of adequate safeguards has allowed for its frequent misuse by authorities to prevent peaceful assemblies and impose blanket internet shutdowns.

International human rights law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), protects the right of people to freely seek, receive, and provide information and ideas through all media, including the internet. Security-related restrictions must be law-based and a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern. On August 22, United Nations experts issued a joint statement on Jammu and Kashmir that, “The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality.” The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has said that necessity requires showing that shutdowns would achieve their stated purpose, which in fact they often jeopardize. “It has been found that maintaining network connectivity may mitigate public safety concerns and help restore public order,” according to his 2017 report.

In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning measures by countries to prevent or disrupt online access and information and called for free speech protections under articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR. In their 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN experts and rapporteurs declared that, even in times of conflict, “using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.”

Instead of indefinite, blanket shutdowns and repressing peaceful dissent, authorities should use social media to provide transparent information that can discourage incitement to violence, and direct security forces to act according to international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.

“International law permits restrictions on speech, including the internet, but they must be narrowly construed for a legitimate aim – which the current restrictions fail to do,” Ganguly said. “The Indian government needs to address people’s concerns, not cut them off from being able to communicate properly and freely.”
 

The US repudiation of international law in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: wrong, counter-productive and dangerous

Opinio Juris - Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Vito Todeschini is an Associate Legal Adviser at the International Commission of Jurists’ MENA Programme Said Benarbia is the International Commission of Jurists’ MENA Programme Director In a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Middle East held on 23 July 2019, Jason D. Greenblatt, Assistant to the US President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, intervened to clarify the...

China’s Mediation Revolution? Opportunities and Challenges of the Singapore Mediation Convention

Opinio Juris - Wednesday, August 28, 2019
[Peter H. Corne is the Managing Partner of Dorsey & Whitney’s Shanghai Office, NYU Global Adjunct Professor of Law, and Mediator of the Shanghai Commercial Mediation Center. Matthew S. Erie is an Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Studies and Associate of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies of the University of Oxford, and Principal Investigator of the “China, Law and Development”...

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