IHRP external news feeds

Tanzania Drops Threat of Prison Over Publishing Independent Statistics

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 3, 2019
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Part of the city of Dar es Salaam is seen from an airplane, in Tanzania, March 20, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Last week, Tanzania’s Parliament passed an amendment to its troubling Statistics Act, which removes a threat of prison for civil society groups that publish independent statistical information.

The Statistics Act of 2015 made it a crime for people in Tanzania to publish “false official statistics” or to disseminate information that would result in the “distortion of facts.” In 2017, police arrested opposition politician Zitto Kabwe for violating the law for remarks he made about Tanzania’s economic growth. He was never charged and eventually released. In 2018, Parliament amended the law to make it a crime to publish statistics without the approval of the National Bureau of Statistics, and disseminating statistics that “invalidate, distort or discredit” the government bodies’ statistics. 

The Tanzanian government came under heavy criticism for the Act. Local NGO Twaweza criticized the harsh penalties it provided while the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said it hampered the work of human rights defenders. Last year, the World Bank said the law was out of line with international standards and shared its concerns with the government.

The pressure seems to have worked. Although new amendments to eight laws proposed this year would have reinforced these and other restrictions on basic freedoms of association and expression, the amendment relating to the statistics law that Parliament passed seems to have lifted at least some restrictions. Specifically, the amendment now says that every person has a right to collect and disseminate statistical information and removes criminal liability for publishing independent statistics. It also sets up new procedures for those seeking to access and publish national data.

In an environment where the government has banned newspapers, fined TV stations, arrested and prosecuted journalists, bloggers, and opposition politicians, and put into effect a slew of legislation that curtails freedom of expression and the right to privacy, this could be one step in the right direction.  

US Students’ Rights at Risk from Social Media Monitoring

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 3, 2019
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A student takes a moment to check her phone at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Chicago on Friday, June 8, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Martha Irvine

School is out for the summer in the United States, but concerns about shootings and other violence on campus loom large. In response, some US school districts are turning to programs that monitor students’ social media activities for purported warning signs of violence. But these programs risk interfering excessively with children’s rights without proof that they are necessary or reliable in addressing the problems districts are trying to solve.

A Florida law passed last year requires the state’s Department of Education and law enforcement to create a central database capturing, among other things, information from social media. While this plan has generated controversy, a state commission report indicates that software under consideration would “scan social media to identify signs of bullying, self-harm or threats of violence against students, employees and schools.”

A number of districts elsewhere in the country have already purchased social media monitoring programs. The US-based Brennan Center for Justice reports that 63 districts purchased such programs last year – up from 6 in 2013. The programs can work in different ways, but according to the Brennan Center, a significant number involve software that analyzes social media posts for indicators of potential violence or self-harm.

Despite increasing enthusiasm for these programs, their efficacy in preventing harm to students has not yet been proven, and the potential impact on students’ privacy rights could be unnecessary and disproportionate – making such interference incompatible with international human rights standards. For example, programs could store excessive or sensitive information, including due to inaccurate or broad monitoring of posts for keywords thought to relate to mental health. They could also generate records of children simply expressing the normal highs and lows of childhood – and the children posting the material may not always understand these possible consequences.

Overly broad monitoring could also negatively impact freedom of expression of students and others. Studies show that when people realize they are under surveillance online, they are more likely to self-censor and refrain from communicating with certain groups or individuals.   

Protecting students from violence should be a top priority for schools. But when the new school year begins this fall, officials should avoid unnecessary surveillance and treat students’ online activity in a way that doesn’t interfere needlessly with rights.

The Greek Islands’ Forgotten Emergency

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 3, 2019
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A Syrian man reads inside his tent at a makeshift camp outside Moria on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, May 5, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

With national elections coming up in less than a week in Greece, the widespread public debate about the country’s economy and future is not surprising. Unfortunately, other important issues are not getting the same attention.

This was brought home to me last week on a visit to Lesbos, the Greek island where thousands of asylum seekers are trapped due to an EU-backed policy that prevents them from travelling to the mainland where services are better.

In 2015, the world’s attention was focused on this issue, and it was a top priority for the Greek government. Now that attention has faded, but the problems remain.

More than 16,500 asylum seekers are trapped on Greek islands, most in the severely overcrowded “hotspot” camps. The largest, Moria camp on Lesbos, holds more than 5,000 people, while on Samos, a camp for 648 people, currently holds more than 3,600. Hundreds are forced to live in the forest surrounding the Samos camp. Thousands of children don’t have access to schools and vulnerable asylum seekers, including pregnant women and people with disabilities, can’t access critical services.

What was most disheartening about my visit is that there has been backsliding on key areas of progress. Asylum procedures have slowed down, services are short-staffed, and arrivals of asylum seekers from Turkey are increasing, with serious consequences for those in need.

“Authorities are again registering unaccompanied children as adults,” an NGO worker told me. Human Rights Watch documented in 2017 how unaccompanied migrant children on Lesbos were being incorrectly identified as adults and housed with unrelated adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and unable to access care they need. The government took steps to halt what was happening, but it seems to have re-started.

“There’s no psychologist in the camp [the Moria hotspot] since the beginning of May, and before that there was no doctor since October,” said another NGO worker. She explained that the lack of a psychologist combined with slow procedures means that at-risk asylum seekers – like victims of torture, gender-based violence survivors, people with invisible disabilities, or unaccompanied children – are not identified by the authorities and given the attention they need. The modest improvements in support in the previous year appear to have been lost.

Whoever leads Greece’s next government should pay a visit to Lesbos and make the Aegean Island’s emergency a priority again.

Germany: Economic Ministry Pushes for Weak Company Monitoring

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 3, 2019
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Bangladeshis work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 19, 2018. 

© 2019 AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

The German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy is trying to weaken measures that would track how well companies in the country identify and respond to possible human rights abuses in their supply chains. The coalition government should stand firm at a meeting of secretaries of state taking place today and adopt a monitoring system that holds German companies to rigorously high standards when it comes to sourcing materials responsibly. The companies should ensure that their supply chains are free of human rights abuses from start to finish – in line with internationally recognized norms.

“The Economics Ministry is putting forward a proposal that would make it far too easy for companies to be categorized as complying with international human rights standards when they are not doing the job,” said Juliane Kippenberg, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “There is a risk that the monitoring system will be misused as a political tool to avoid tougher government measures on companies – most importantly, the passage of a much-needed law on supply chains.” A supply chain is composed of all steps needed to make a product – from obtaining raw materials to shipping, manufacturing, and retail.

The parties making up Germany’s coalition government have agreed between themselves that if the country’s large companies don’t voluntarily address supply chain and other human rights abuses sufficiently by 2020, the government will consider creating laws that require them to do so. Companies would have to identify, mitigate, and account for the human rights impact of their activities.

Whether the government moves forward with proposing a law on supply chains depends therefore, in large part, on how thoroughly the government is monitoring companies’ performances. However, the proposed monitoring system has already been derailed by disagreements among government officials. A questionnaire for self-reporting on the topic was supposed to have been sent out to companies based in Germany with more than 500 employees for them to respond to between May and July. But this process has stalled, and the questionnaires have yet to be distributed because the Economic Affairs Ministry disagrees with the plan.

The ministry is proposing a monitoring system that would allow the government to categorize more companies as complying with government standards for responsible sourcing. It suggests that rather than only two categories – “compliant” and “non-compliant” –, there should be four, including those “with compliance plans” and “partially compliant.”

Germany’s 2016 National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights foresees a “robust” monitoring system to assess company performance, which is far from the Economic Ministry’s current proposal.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 450 million people work in supply chain-related jobs. Human Rights Watch has documented labor rights abuses such as child labor, forced labor, hazardous working conditions, attacks on trade unionists, and other serious human rights abuses in global supply chains.

For example, child laborers and adults in Ghana, the Philippines, and many other countries risk ill-health and death when mining gold in unstable pits and processing ore with toxic mercury. Human Rights Watch has also documented labor abuses in global garment supply chains, including excessive or forced overtime work, denial of breaks, pregnancy discrimination, and attacks on trade unionists.

While a number of German apparel companies have joined the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, many of these companies still do not adopt basic human rights due diligence good practices, such as supply chain transparency. In addition, changes in apparel companies’ purchasing practices and the introduction of quality grievance redress measures for workers in their global supplier factories are critical to mitigate labor abuses in global supply chains. Human Rights Watch has also documented that German companies such as the jeweller Christ and the clothing brand KiK, do not have human rights safeguards in their supply chains.

“The Economics Ministry’s delaying tactics and whitewash proposals are a disgrace,” Kippenberg said. “The government should show that respect for international human rights norms at home and abroad and Germany’s economic interests are not mutually exclusive, and in fact that support for good practices can enhance economic growth.”

Libya: Deadly Attack Highlights Disregard for Civilians

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

(Tunis) –The deaths of at least 44 migrants and asylum seekers in an airstrike on July 3, 2019 on a compound that includes a detention center in Tajoura, near Tripoli, Libya, is a foreseeable consequence of warring parties failing to adequately protect civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. They are also the result of the failure by the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli to evacuate detention centers located near the fighting and military objects. A credible and independent investigation should be carried out to determine responsibility for this attack and hold those responsible to account.

The strike should also press home the need for the EU to step up efforts to help end the nightmare of migrant detention in Libya, including by demanding an end to abusive detention by Libyan authorities. The EU should boost the resettlement of asylum seekers out of Libya, including directly to EU countries, and increase search and rescue operations at sea and disembarkation in a safe place outside Libya.

“Today’s deadly airstrike is a tragic but foreseeable consequence of fighting among heavily armed factions with scant regard for civilian lives, whether Libyan or foreign,” aid Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government in Tripoli’s failure to release or evacuate the thousands of detained migrants in the area has left them like sitting ducks during the ongoing fighting.”

Some 5,800 migrants are held in indefinite detention without charge in abhorrent conditions in facilities under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA. About 3,300 of them are in greater Tripoli, where GNA-linked forces have been battling forces known as the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Hiftar, who is allied with a rival government based in the east of Libya.

The GNA accused the LNA of responsibility for the strike, a charge that an LNA spokesperson denied.

The Tajoura facility housed at least 600 men, women, and child migrants and asylum seekers at the time of attack, and is among the detention centers located near or adjacent to military facilities, at heightened risk of being in the line of fire. Shrapnel damaged the Tajoura center two months ago. Fighters allied with the GNA have reportedly obliged detained migrants to move and maintain weaponry, in likely violation of the laws of war.

The UN Human Rights Office has called for the immediate release of everyone held in migrant detention centers in Libya. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that migrants and asylum seekers rescued at sea while trying to reach Europe should not be forcibly returned to Libya, in view of the prevailing conditions for migrants there. While humanitarian agencies have facilitated the evacuation of hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from detention centers near the battle lines, the Libyan Coast Guard has, since the beginning of 2019, intercepted at sea over 2,300 migrants and asylum seekers and returned them to detention in Libya.

When the Security Council meets July 3 in an emergency session devoted to Libya, Council members should support these positions taken by UN agencies and also demand an independent investigation into the attack, Human Rights Watch said.

“It shouldn’t have taken this kind of tragedy, but now the EU should urgently press Libya to free all arbitrarily detained migrants and asylum seekers, and, at a minimum, immediately evacuate those held near the ongoing hostilities,” Goldstein said. “We need to see robust search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean to minimize loss of life as people flee an increasingly desperate situation in Libya, an end to disembarkation in Libya, and an agreement to allow migrants and asylum seekers rescued at sea to land quickly and safely in Europe.”

 

Kenya: Nairobi Police Executing Suspects

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019
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Protesters carry photos of taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, who was killed extrajudicially alongside human rights lawyer Willie Kimani and his client, in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 4, 2016. Between 2016 and 2019, Kenyan police have used excessive and unlawful use of force resulting in killings during police operations.

 

© 2016 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

(Nairobi) – Police in Kenya have killed no fewer than 21 men and boys in Nairobi’s low-income areas, apparently with no justification, claiming they were criminals, Human Rights Watch said today. The extrajudicial killings point to a broader problem of police using excessive, unlawful force in the name of maintaining law and order in Nairobi’s informal settlements and failing to comply with the law in ensuring all police killings are reported, investigated, and those responsible for unlawful killings are prosecuted.

Since August 2018, police have shot dead, apparently unlawfully, at least 21 men and boys whom they alleged were criminals in Nairobi’s Dandora and Mathare neighborhoods alone, Human Rights Watch found. Rights activists in those neighborhoods believe that, based on the cases they know about and those reported in the media, police have unlawfully killed many more in the past year. Under Kenyan and international law, the police should only intentionally use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable to protect life.

“Police are arresting unarmed people and then gunning them down, and neither the police service nor its watchdog agency is doing much to stop it,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should promptly investigate these cases and hold to account any police officer responsible for unlawful use of force.”

In April and May 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 people including witnesses, family members of victims, medical and social workers, activists, and police personnel including the police spokesman in Nairobi. Human Rights Watch worked closely with partner organizations in Dandora and Mathare in identifying victims and families.

A businessman who is also a police informer told Human Rights Watch that the police have a list of people they plan to kill, including petty thieves and, in a few cases, men and women who have had disagreements with individual police officers.

Last April alone, and in a span of just three days, police in Mathare shot dead seven men who they said were involved in crime, without apparent justification for using lethal force, Human Rights Watch found. The men were not armed, did not resist arrest, and had either surrendered or were being held by the officers at the time of the killing.

On April 14, police shot dead Kevin Gitau, 25, who was due to travel out of the country to take up a job offer in the Middle East, according to his family members. On April 17, police shot six men in the Mlango Kubwa area. Staff at a community rights organization in Mathare, who have been documenting the killings and offering psychosocial support to relatives of victims, said that one of the six was a 17-year-old boy.

In May 2017, the community organization in Mathare documented police killings of 57 men and women, allegedly for links to crime, in Mathare alone in one year. Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission, both Nairobi based human rights organizations, and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a state funded constitutional institution, have over the years consistently reported on killings by police in low income areas.

Kenyan media frequently report on killings as part of law enforcement actions in low-income neighborhoods. In October 2018, the Star newspaper reported that police in Dandora, Mathare, and Majengo killed at least 17 people in a seven- day period. The same month, the Daily Nation reported that police killed at least 101 people in Nairobi and more than 180 people across Kenya in a nine-month period. It was not clear from the media reports whether any of these killings could be considered justified.

Human Rights Watch has also documented extrajudicial killings in the context of election violence and counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and the northeastern region, and at the coast in counterterrorism operations.

Under Kenya’s National Police Service Act of 2011, lethal force is only justified when strictly unavoidable to protect life. Kenyan security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which stipulate that law enforcement officials should use nonviolent means and resort to lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The basic principles also require governments to ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense.

The Police Service Act requires police officers who use lethal fire to report to their immediate superior, explaining the circumstances that necessitated the use of force. Police also are required to report for investigation any use of force that leads to death or serious injury to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian police accountability institution created in 2011 to investigate and prosecute officers implicated in abuses.

In the cases Human Rights Watch documented, the police did not report the killings or initiate the process for an inquest, which is also required by law. Despite the oversight group’s efforts to investigate some of the killings since 2013, when it became operational, its work has led to only five convictions, according to an IPOA official.

The police spokesman, Charles Owino, said he did not have full information on the status of investigations but urged the oversight authority to investigate the killings. “Any officer who breaches the law must face the consequences as an individual,” he said. “In the case of the killings in Dandora and Mathare, IPOA ought to investigate such killings and ensure the culprits are prosecuted.”

Kenyan police should ensure justice for the victims of police killings and avoid appearing to be shielding those implicated, Human Rights Watch said. The National Police Service should work with community justice centers to ensure justice for the victims and support the oversight authority’s efforts to hold those responsible to account. The oversight authority should thoroughly investigate all police killings in Nairobi and across Kenya and ensure that all those responsible for unlawful killings are held to account.

“These killings are happening right under the nose of police commanders, who have done nothing either to stop them or to hold those responsible to account,” Namwaya said. “Both the police and the oversight authority need to call a halt to these executions and to make sure that the police know they will face justice if they unlawfully kill suspects.”

Killings by Police in Nairobi

Police officials at the Pangani station, which patrols Mathare, one of the areas where people were killed, told Human Rights Watch they were aware of the killings but could not discuss details. In the Dandora neighborhood, police have also shot dead suspects, apparently without justification, Human Rights Watch found.

Over the past five years, police across Kenya have appeared more inclined to justify killings in Mathare, Dandora, Eastleigh, and Kayole, and other low-income neighborhoods in the media rather than push for investigations. In some cases, police have posted photos, which Human Rights Watch saw, of bodies of their victims on social media, without informing the victims’ relatives of the killing, Human Rights Watch found.

In April 2017, a video emerged of a police officer killing two teenagers in broad daylight on the streets of Eastleigh, responding to public outcry by saying that it was because the teenagers were criminals who had killed an officer. The authorities never investigated the killings. Instead, the police defended the killings on grounds that the two teenagers were armed “criminals” who had in the past killed a police officer.

Seven Mathare residents told Human Rights Watch they believe the same officer is now heading a team of officers called the Pangani Six, who carry out targeted killings of alleged crime suspects in Mathare and Eastleigh areas. Residents in Dandora believe a similar team of officers in Kinyago station are operating as a hit squad, and that there are similar units in several other informal settlements in Nairobi, a claim the police spokesman denied.

A police informer from Dandora said the officers there have a list of suspects targeted to be extrajudicially executed, and that most of the killings are carried out by specific officers who have a joint WhatsApp group and other social media platforms on which they share information about future targets or those already killed.

Organizations documenting such killings say that they have increased since September 2013. At that time, the media quoted a senior police commander and a cabinet minister, who were speaking at a public gathering, saying the state had issued a “shoot to kill” order against suspected criminals. Thereafter, senor police officers justified the decision during TV interviews. Two police officers in Nairobi told Human Rights Watch in May that the order is still in place.

Government officials and senior police commanders have repeatedly boasted that police have succeeded in reducing crime and that the officers have a “right” to use lethal force, since criminals are always armed.

Killings in April 2019

Police killed seven men and boys on the nights of April 14 and April 17 in Mathare, Human Rights Watch found. In all the cases, witnesses said the victims were shot either when kneeling in front of the police on the streets or in the custody of the police after being arrested.

At about 5 p.m. on April 14, police in Mathare grabbed Kevin Gitau, 25, as he got off a bus from downtown Nairobi, forced him into their vehicle, and drove away, a witness said. The next day, his family saw the news that he had been killed on social media, accompanied by pictures of his body.

Dandora police posted photos of Gitau lying in a pool of blood and said the police had gunned down a dangerous criminal. The family found his body at the city mortuary later that day. A witness to the arrest said he recognized a member of the “Pangani six” group of police officers among the police who arrested him.

A relative and two activists in Mathare said the same officer had arrested him on February 2, accusing him of stealing a phone, but released him following an online campaign by activists. A friend of Gitau’s said that, following his release, the officer told Gitau that he would kill him.

Police officials at the Pangani station, overseeing the area where these killings occurred, told Human Rights Watch they were aware of the killings but could not discuss any details. In the Dandora neighborhood, police have also shot dead suspects, apparently without justification, Human Rights Watch found.

On April 17, the same killer squad of police officers killed five young men and a boy in two separate locations, witnesses said.

In one incident on April 17, about six police officers raided the home of 17-year-old Benson Kavindo in the Mlango Kubwa neighborhood and accused him of theft. A neighbor said: “We could hear him pleading for his life and saying he was not a thief, but police just dragged him out of the house and shot him dead just a few meters away from the house. He was kneeling down when police shot him.”

The same morning around 5 a.m., the police killed three other boys and men, ages 17 to 25, who lived in the streets of Mathare, as they are homeless. Mathare residents said two of the victims spent their time combing through a small dumpsite in Mlango Kubwa. Their unidentified bodies remain at Nairobi City Mortuary. The whereabouts of the third victim, nicknamed Jaluo, remain unknown.

One witness, who said he watched the killings through an opening in his door, said he saw Jaluo shot dead:

“They were around six officers. They all aimed at him and fired at the same time. It was like a firing squad. The officers then carried the body away. We don’t know where they took the body.”

Killings on October 26, 2018

On the morning of October 26, police pursued two suspected robbers to Dandora Phase Four. A police statement to the media later that day said the suspects had ambushed a motorcycle taxi driver, robbed him of his motorbike, and raped his passenger before they escaped.

Witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch that police tracked the suspects to a hideout and shot one of them dead and pursued the second as he escaped over rooftops. The suspect fell into a house when one of the rooftops caved in, and the police who were pursuing him arrived at the scene and shot and killed him on the spot.

Three neighbors who witnessed the killings said that the police pulled three men who had been sleeping in the house that collapsed out into open ground outside of the house. The neighbors said that the three were kneeling outside, as commanded by the officers, surrounded by six armed officers when a female officer from Kinyago arrived and shot the kneeling men dead.

Relatives identified the victims as David Kariuki, a 38-year-old seller of used shoes, and his two nephews Peter Mwangi, a 22-year-old student at Kisii University, and John Gathufatu, a 17-year-old secondary school student. Human Rights Watch saw a report by the chief government pathologist, which says that Kariuki was killed by one bullet in the mouth and two in the chest while Mwangi and Gathufatu were each killed by a single bullet in the head.

Moments later that same morning, the same female officer, the witnesses said, shot a fourth victim, 22-year-old Samuel Musili, a student at Dandora Secondary school, who had climbed a tree in the neighboring compound. She ordered him to climb down from the tree and kneel, then shot him in the head, the witnesses said. The local station commander said he was aware of the killings but declined to talk about them, saying the oversight agency was best suited to provide information about the killings.

Killings on August 28, 2018

On August 28, just after noon, two officers from Kinyago police station in Dandora raided a makeshift scrap metal shop near the dump and killed the owner, Alex Githuku Macharia, 34, together with four other men: Jacob Chege Kaberi, 24; Davis Tekei, a 21-year-old employee of Githuku’s at the scrap metal shop; 22-year-old Fredrick Ochieng, and a 29-year-old public minibus conductor, Vincent Mandu Oduor. A sixth man slipped into the nearby buildings and escaped unharmed.

The man who escaped told Human Rights Watch that one of the police officers demanded that the six men surrender a gun the officer claimed Githuku had. Githuku, who was kneeling alongside the others with hands raised, as the police directed, denied having a gun. A second police officer arrived and opened fire on the men, killing five, the sixth man said.

Caroline Mwatha, a staff member at Dandora Community Social Justice Centre, was among the first to arrive at the scene and interviewed witnesses and relatives of the victims and said that the men were unarmed and kneeling when they were killed. Mwatha was later killed under suspicious circumstances, which activists believe could have been in retaliation for her work, a claim police have denied. Police said Mwatha died after an attempted abortion went wrong.

Another activist who witnessed and later documented the killings described the incident to Human Rights Watch:

A known officer from Kinyago police station first arrived, ordered them to kneel, and demanded guns from them, which they denied having. Another officer from Kinyago station arrived minutes later in the middle of the argument and just opened fire on the six, who were kneeling and pleading that their innocence, killing five instantly. One escaped, but they had no guns.

Geoffrey Mayiek, an officer who commands the Buruburu Police Division and who also oversees Kinyago station, told the media the five men were “suspected thugs” and that police recovered firearms and drugs from the scene. Mayiek said police recovered three firearms and 14 rounds of ammunition from the suspects, who had been using the dumpsite as their hideout.

Activists in Dandora said that police at Kinyago station have threatened witnesses and relatives of victims of the killings not to pursue justice. Two days after the killings, a police commander summoned the relatives of one of the victims to the Kinyago station and cautioned them against talking to the media or to investigators and promised to reward those who heed his advice, activists and family members said.

“After that meeting with the commander at Kinyago station, relatives and witnesses stopped cooperating with investigators who had started looking into the killings,” an activist said.

Two activists and a relative of one of the victims in Dandora said that police were also implicated in the killings of three other unidentified men in Dandora in January and February 2019.

Police Response

Human Rights Watch interviewed Charles Owino, the police spokesman, and the police commanders who supervise the officers implicated in the killings Human Rights Watch documented. The commanders at Kinyago and Pangani stations said they were aware of the killings but declined to discuss details of the killings or the status of investigations, and instead referred us either to Owino or IPOA.

Human Rights Watch found that, in each of the 21 killings in Dandora and Mathare, the police failed to prepare preliminary reports about the killings for sharing with the oversight agency, the Internal Affairs Unit, and the Inspector General’s Office, according to an IPOA investigator who knows about the cases. The police also failed to conduct an inquest in each of the killings as required by law, and Owino confirmed that inquests should have been conducted.

Officials at the Kinyago police station said investigations were underway in both incidents of killings in Dandora in 2018. Relatives of victims and activists pursuing justice for victims said, however, that investigations in the August killings have stalled because witnesses have withdrawn after receiving threats. An official of the police oversight agency said that, despite a lack of cooperation from the Dandora police, it is investigating the October 2018 killings.

An IPOA official said that investigators have difficulties proceeding with the August killings as witnesses have stopped cooperating with the agency’s investigators. The investigations into the police killing of seven men and boys in Mathare in April have also stalled because witnesses are afraid of testifying against the police, some due to direct threats they received from people they believe are police officers, said an official of the oversight agency. The official said the agency is investigating the October 26 killings.

It appears that police have done little to support the oversight agency’s investigations such as by providing preliminary reports, and activists and relatives of victims in one of the Dandora cases said police had intimidated witnesses.

Owino contended that police in Dandora and Mathare had in many cases acted lawfully to protect the public against criminals and said that Dandora is safer than it was five years ago because of the work of police in containing crime.

He also said that police responsibility to control crime and protect people is not a license to break the law and urged the oversight agency to take action on all the killings. “We do not protect officers who break the law and, if there are officers involved in unlawful killings, they should just face the law as individuals,” he said. “IPOA should investigate these killings and hold those responsible to account.”

Amid France Heat Wave, Police Teargas Climate Activists

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019
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French CRS riot police forcibly remove French youth and environmental activists as they block a bridge during a demonstration to urge world leaders to act against climate change, in Paris, France, June 28, 2019.

© 2019 Reuters/Charles Platiau

Last weekend, France recorded an all-time heat record of 45.9 degrees Celsius. With rising temperatures globally, heatwaves are becoming more intense and frequent and their impacts can be devastating. But when a group called Extinction Rebellion organized a protest on a Paris bridge on June 28 demanding France act more swiftly to reduce carbon emissions, they faced a harsh police response.

Video footage from the protest shows Paris riot police using teargas from very close range against a couple dozen activists peacefully staging a sit-in.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of disproportionate use of force by French police including unnecessary use of teargas against migrant children in Calais in 2017, and during some “yellow vest” and student protests last year. As climate activists ring alarm bells, they are facing government repression in many parts of the world. Some climate activists were prevented from participating in last year’s climate talks in Poland.

But the French police response comes at a time when much of the government seems to agree that acting on climate change is a priority.

Last week, the French High Council for the Climate, a government-mandated panel, published a report finding that France is not on track to meet its goals under the Paris Agreement. The French Parliament has recognized the global threat by declaring a climate emergency. In the lead up to the G20 Summit in Japan, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced he would treat climate change as a red-line issue. In a recent speech, he even called on student climate activists to continue holding their leaders to account: “I need you to make our lives impossible…because the more you do that, the more likely we are to act.”

The French minister of the interior, Christophe Castaner, has asked for a written account from Parisian police authorities about Friday’s response. On Monday, the public prosecutor also opened an investigation to assess whether the police response was proportionate.

The government should also reflect more broadly on the implications of its actions toward climate activists. At a time when environmental defenders are under threat globally, the French government should listen to those raising climate concerns, not repress them.

EU: Press Nicaragua Over Protest Crackdown

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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Police detain protesters during a demonstration against the government of President Daniel Ortega in Managua, Nicaragua, on March 16, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga (Brussels, July 2, 2019) – The European Union should increase pressure on the Nicaraguan government to curb human rights violations by police and other officials in the wake of anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and foreign ministers. The EU should impose targeted sanctions against high-level Nicaraguan officials implicated in gross human rights violations and condition financial support to Nicaragua’s National Police.  

The crackdown on anti-government protests by Nicaragua’s National Police and armed pro-government groups that began in April 2018 led to more than 300 deaths and 2,000 people injured. A Human Rights Watch report released on June 19, 2019, documented egregious abuse that in some cases amounted to torture of many of the hundreds of people arrested by police or abducted by armed pro-government groups

“President Daniel Ortega will not voluntarily reestablish the basic human rights guarantees that his government worked so hard to dismantle,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Intense and persistent international pressure, including through targeted sanctions against senior officials implicated in gross human rights violations, is key to ending the widespread abuses.”

Human Rights Watch found that prosecutions of people arrested during the crackdown were marred by serious violations of due process and other fundamental rights. The government has also retaliated against independent journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and international human rights monitors.

The EU should impose targeted sanctions on senior government officials responsible for gross human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. They include President Ortega and six others who directed the police forces implicated in abuses or a detention center where torture was committed, or who were required under Nicaraguan law to investigate alleged rights violations by police officers, and sanction those responsible.

 The EU should condition any future financial support to the Nicaraguan National Police on exhaustive national investigations of rights violations and efforts by the authorities to dismantle and prosecute armed pro-government groups.

International pressure has played an important role in the government’s recent release of 392 detainees accused of committing crimes in the context of the protests, Human Rights Watch said. But these releases should not overshadow the fact that many of those released remained under restrictive measures as of June 19. An additional 100 people were arrested and released in March in connection with new demonstrations, showing the need for increased pressure on officials. There have been no prosecutions of security forces responsible for abuses related to the crackdown.

The EU’s high representative has repeatedly expressed concern regarding the situation in Nicaragua. In January, EU foreign ministers stated their “readiness to use all [the EU’s] policy instruments” to “react to further deterioration of human rights and rule of law.” Despite a call by the European Parliament in March, the EU has yet to impose targeted sanctions on a single Nicaraguan official implicated in human rights violations. Some Nicaraguan officials have been sanctioned by the United States and Canada.

The approved 2018 budget of Nicaragua’s National Police indicated that a third—US$1.2 million out of US$3 million—were donations from the EU. In October 2018, the EU delegation in Managua confirmed to Human Rights Watch it had allocated 8 million euros to the Nicaraguan government, including the police, for a project covering 2014-2018 to counter organized crime and prevent drug abuse. However, they did not respond to an inquiry as to how much of that money has gone to the police or whether the project would be renewed.

In June, EU parliament members informed Human Rights Watch that “responsible EU institutions” had told them that “as soon as the crisis started” they had stopped the “only project that involved security forces.” They said the only support currently provided to Nicaragua benefited Nicaraguan society and was channeled through Nicaraguan and international organizations. The 2019 approved police budget does not show any donations from the EU.

 “The European Union has a key role to play in pressuring the Ortega government to curb abuses and to help victims achieve justice and accountability,” Vivanco said.  “It should urgently step up to the task.”

Hungary Renews its War on Academic Freedom

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019
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Participants in a demonstration titled "Academic Workers' Forum Life Chain for Science" gather in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) headquarters to protest against the planned reorganisation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019.

© 2019 Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP

Academic freedom in Hungary suffered a fresh blow Tuesday, when the parliament, where ruling party Fidesz has a two-thirds majority, adopted a controversial bill undermining the independence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The country’s president is expected to sign it into law.

The Academy, comprised of distinguished scientists and intellectuals, has a research network of 15 institutes and 150 research groups comprising about 3,000 scientific researchers. The new bill will increase state control over the Academy by removing the 15 research institutes from the main academy and placing them in a newly established state research network (Eotvos Lorand Kutatasi Halozat).

The state research network will have a new governing board with members appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and a majority nominated by the government. The board will decide on funding and appoint directors for each research institute. The changes will allow the government to shape what types of scientific projects will be funded rather than the Academy independently making those decisions.

Emese Szilagyi, Scientific Secretary of the Institute for Legal Studies at the Academy of Sciences, told Human Rights Watch that among Academy researchers, there is fear the Academy won’t be free to choose research topics but may be forced to conduct research in fields the government wants and be expected to provide findings that support their preconceived theses.

The government’s recent campaign to ban academic gender studies in Hungary and its move to force Central European University out of the country suggests this fear is well founded.

These moves highlight the government’s wider efforts to silence critical voices and discourage independent thought.

These worrisome developments, part of the broader rule of law backslide in Hungary, underscore the importance of the political sanctions process against Hungary’s government triggered by the European Parliament last year under Article 7 of the EU treaty.

The next step is for the EU Council of member states to scrutinize Hungary’s record, but the Council has yet to have a hearing on the matter. The incoming Finnish presidency should schedule a Council hearing on Hungary as soon as possible.

Malaysia: Assembly Bill Reforms Fall Short

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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People attend an anti-kleptocracy rally in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on October 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Lai Seng Sin / Reuters (New York) – Proposed revisions to Malaysia’s law on peaceful assembly fall short of meeting international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should further revise the bill amending the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 before submitting it for a parliamentary vote.

On July 1, 2019, a government bill to amend the Peaceful Assembly Act received its first reading in Parliament. The bill would make some positive changes, eliminating language banning all protests in which participants march from one location to another. It would also reduce the required notice period from 10 to 7 days, though this still falls short of international standards that call for a maximum of 48 hours.

“While permitting street protests and shortening the notice period are steps in the right direction, the proposed revisions don’t address many fundamental problems with the law,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser. “The bill still discourages peaceful assembly rather than facilitates this basic right.”

No one should be criminally prosecuted for organizing or participating in a peaceful assembly. Yet the proposed amendments fail to eliminate the various criminal penalties provided in the Peaceful Assembly Act. Moreover, the law still does not provide any exceptions to the notice requirement when it is impractical for the organizers to comply, as international standards require.

The bill should be revised to remove all criminal penalties for peaceful assembly. The law currently permits prosecution of those who organize an assembly without giving the required notice, non-citizens who organize or participate in an assembly, children who participate in an assembly, anyone who brings or permits a child to attend an assembly, anyone under 21 who organizes an assembly, and anyone who violates any restrictions or conditions imposed on the proposed assembly by the police.

While the proposed amendments would authorize the police to impose a non-criminal financial penalty rather than formally prosecuting a violator, exercise of that option would require the public prosecutor’s written consent. Giving prosecutors discretion means it would still be possible for peaceful protesters to be prosecuted.

The continued prohibition on participation by children violates children’s right to freedom of assembly – a right expressly recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malaysia ratified in 1995. The prohibition on those under 21 from organizing assemblies would appear to contradict the government’s recent commitment to empower youth by reducing the voting age from 21 to 18. Similarly, the restriction on participation by non-citizens is contrary to international legal standards that make clear that non-citizens have a right to peacefully assemble.

Malaysia has made significant progress in its treatment of peaceful protests since the Bersih rallies calling for free and fair elections in 2011 and 2012, which were met with excessive and unnecessary force by the police.

“Malaysia’s current government came into office promising to abolish all draconian provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act and earn global respect for the country’s human rights record,” Lakhdhir said. “To achieve this, the government needs to revise the assembly bill to remove all criminal penalties, allow spontaneous protests, and permit children and non-citizens to peacefully protest without fear of prosecution.”

DR Congo: Q&A on ICC’s Ntaganda Trial

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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Bosco Ntaganda sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court during the closing statements of his trial in The Hague, Netherlands, August 28, 2018. 

© 2018 Bas Czerwinski/Pool via AP (New York) – Human Rights Watch released today a question-and-answer document on the trial of the former Congolese general and armed group leader Bosco Ntaganda before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The court’s verdict in the case is scheduled for July 8, 2019.

Ntaganda is charged with alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2002 and 2003. The ICC issued two arrest warrants against him, one in 2006 and one in 2012, but he remained at large for nearly seven years before surrendering in March 2013. Ntaganda is the fourth person to be tried by the ICC for international crimes committed in Congo.

The Q&A provides background on the case against Ntaganda, next steps in the proceedings, and the work of the ICC in Congo.

“The trial against Bosco Ntaganda is a powerful reminder to warlords in Congo that they too could face prosecution,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “At the same time, this case highlights the need for the ICC and Congolese authorities to do more to bring justice for atrocities in Congo.”

US: Asylum Seekers Returned to Uncertainty, Danger in Mexico

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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Immigrants attempt to enter the US between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, on April 29, 2019. Family apprehensions in El Paso area have topped about 60,000 individuals, an increase of 1,670%, up from about 3,000 last year, according to officials.

© 2019 Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

(El Paso, TX) – The United States government should cease returning asylum seekers to wait in Mexico during their US immigration court proceedings, Human Rights Watch and the Hope Border Institute said in a report released today.

Human Rights Watch’s 50-page report, “‘We Can’t Help You Here’: US Returns of Asylum Seekers to Mexico,” finds that thousands of asylum seekers from Central America and elsewhere, including more than 4,780 children, are facing potentially dangerous and unlivable conditions after US authorities return them to Mexico. The US and Mexico agreed on June 7, 2019 to dramatically expand the returns program.

“The US government has advanced a dangerous fiction that asylum seekers returned to Mexico will have access to work and shelter and a fair chance in US immigration courts,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Instead, US border officials are stranding mothers with small children and other vulnerable migrants in Mexican border cities where their safety and security are at risk.”

July 2, 2019 Report “We Can’t Help You Here”

US Returns of Asylum Seekers to Mexico

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) first began returning asylum seekers to Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program at the San Ysidro port of entry in southern California on January 29, and soon after to Calexico. The program expanded to El Paso, across the border from Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua state by mid-March. Since then, Ciudad Juárez has surpassed both Tijuana and Mexicali as hosting the highest number of asylum seekers placed in the MPP program.

Human Rights Watch and the Hope Border Institute conducted 23 in-depth interviews with asylum seekers, as well as interviews with US and Mexico government officials, local activists, and attorneys, and observed MPP immigration court hearings for 69 individuals. Human Rights Watch learned of serious harms to asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez including kidnapping, sexual assault, and violence.

Kimberlyn (last name withheld), a 23-year-old Honduran asylum seeker, said that a taxi driver kidnapped her and her 5-year-old daughter upon returning to Ciudad Juárez after her first court hearing in the US in April. The driver released them within hours but said he would kill them if her family in Honduras did not pay an $800 ransom, which deposit receipts showed they did. Kimberlyn said she still feels unsafe.

The vulnerability of returned asylum seekers is heightened by a lack of shelter, food, and other necessities – and extremely limited resources. Despite earlier promises, the Mexican government has not provided work visas to asylum seekers in the MPP program, ultimately limiting their means of survival and exposing them to exploitation.

US Border Patrol agents have also refused to return asylum seekers’ personal identification documents, Human Rights Watch said. Without identification, asylum seekers may not be able to receive money sent by relatives. In addition, those without documents typically cannot travel to seek asylum elsewhere, find safer locations within Mexico, or return home – leaving them trapped in dangerous, ill-equipped Mexican border cities.

As of June 24, more than fifteen thousand asylum seekers primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador had been returned to Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, and Mexicali with instructions to appear – sometimes months later – in immigration courts across the border in the US. According to the Mexican government, the returned asylum seekers included at least 13 pregnant women, LGBT people, and persons with mental or physical disabilities, who face greater risks.

On June 26, the union representing federal asylum officers, who implement the MPP program – filed an amicus brief in federal court condemning the program as “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations.”

Ciudad Juárez suffers from a severe shortage of shelter space for asylum seekers and other migrants. Together with the 6,600 asylum seekers already waiting in Ciudad Juárez for entry into the US through a metering system, that limits the number who can apply for asylum each day, returned and waiting asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez could total as many as 12,700. Meanwhile, Chihuahua state officials estimated that there are only 1,000 available shelter beds in the city, nearly all church-affiliated.

“Carmen S.” said that she was returned to Mexico in May to await an asylum adjudication with her 6 and 3-year-old sons. However, her first immigration court hearing is not scheduled until October. Back in Mexico, local officials told her there was no shelter space for her family.  “We took to the street with nowhere to go,” Carmen said. She eventually found a shelter that would take her family for seven days, but she had no idea what they would do next. “Why did they make the court hearing so long from now knowing that I have nothing?” Lawyers in El Paso said asylum seekers being returned now are assigned their first court dates in June 2020.

Immigration attorneys and advocates in El Paso said that the need for legal services for returned asylum seekers in Mexico was overwhelming. In hearings for 54 individuals observed by Human Rights Watch in El Paso between May 8-10, only three asylum seekers were represented by legal counsel. Similarly, in hearings for 27 individuals observed by Human Rights Watch in San Diego on May 22, only two people were represented by legal counsel. El Paso immigration attorneys said they faced serious barriers to providing representation to returned asylum seekers, including asylum seekers’ lack of fixed addresses and telephone numbers.

Human Rights Watch and the Hope Border Institute called on the Department of Homeland Security to immediately end the MPP program and cease returning asylum seekers to Mexico and ensure their safety, access to humanitarian support, and due process throughout their asylum proceedings. The US government should also reduce the backlog and provide more opportunities for pro bono legal representation in the immigration court system. Finally, the government should avoid detaining migrants, especially asylum seekers, children, families, those with physical or mental health concerns, and other vulnerable populations.

“Sending asylum seekers to Mexico has left them with little to no meaningful access to legal representation in the United States, contrary to US government claims,” said Edith Tapia, policy research analyst at the Hope Border Institute in El Paso. The institute has been observing immigration court hearings for asylum seekers in the MPP program and documenting the situation of returned asylum seekers in Ciudad Juarez.

Three-Year-Old Girl Latest Philippines ‘Drug War’ Victim

Human Rights Watch - Monday, July 1, 2019
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Protesters display placards and shout slogans during a rally outside the Philippine National Police headquarters to protest the killing by police of Kian Loyd Delos Santos, a 17-year-old grade 11 student, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Manila, Philippines.

© 2017 AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

On Sunday, a 3-year-old girl became the latest casualty of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which has killed thousands over the past three years. Myka Ulpina died after being shot during a police raid targeting her father, Renato Dolofrina, in Rizal province, near Manila, media reports said. Police claimed that Dolofrina used the child as a “shield” during the operation.

Police accounts of drug raids are not reliable because the officers enforcing the “drug war” have been shown to manufacture evidence such as planting weapons and drugs to justify killings. Deceit has become the hallmark of this brutal campaign in which the authorities admit 6,600 people have been killed – other estimates suggest as many as 27,000 – because all of them, according to authorities, fought back, ignoring case after case in which witnesses say suspects were executed.

Most of those killed in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, including the children like Myka, lived in impoverished urban areas. The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, was among those that condemned the July 2018 death of Skyler Abatayo, 4, and that of Danica May Garcia, 5, in August 2016.

Then there are the children who themselves were targeted and killed, the most notorious case being that of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, who was shown in surveillance footage being dragged away by police and was later found dead in a pigsty. Kian’s murder resulted in the only conviction so far of police officers implicated in a “drug war” killing. Child rights groups in the Philippines have told Human Rights Watch that more than 100 children have died since the campaign began in June 2016.

The “drug war” has also damaged countless Filipino children who continue to grapple with the psychological, emotional, social, and economic impact of the killings of their loved ones, who were often their family’s breadwinner. A web feature Human Rights Watch published last week underscored the devastation this campaign has unleashed on children.

The deaths of Myka and other children, as well as the thousands of adults, should prod the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the Iceland-initiated resolution that urges the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the “drug war” killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines. The resolution on the table is a modest first step, but if passed and implemented it can make significant inroads towards stopping the carnage in the Philippines.

Afghanistan War’s Terrible Toll on Children

Human Rights Watch - Monday, July 1, 2019
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A security forces soldier arrives at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 1, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

On July 1, a Taliban truck bomb apparently aimed at a Ministry of Defense facility in Kabul blew out the windows of a nearby school, injuring many civilians, including dozens of children. The attack is a grim reminder of the war in Afghanistan’s horrific toll on children. Since 2016, children have accounted for roughly 30 percent of the estimated 11,000 civilian casualties every year in the conflict.

In February, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the high rate of child casualties in Afghanistan as “particularly shocking,” and noted the violence causes both long-term physical and psychological harm to entire families. Of the 3,062 casualties among children in 2018, most were the result of bombings, including ones like this attack that the Taliban said was targeting military “logistics and engineering centers.”

The number of children injured and killed in Afghan Air Force and United States air operations has also continued to rise. Airstrikes in 2018 caused 492 injuries and deaths among children, an 85 percent increase compared to 2017. In one case, on March 23, 2019, a US airstrike in Kunduz killed 10 children.     

Preparations for Afghanistan’s presidential election, scheduled for September 23, also add to the risks faced by children. As in previous elections, government-run schools are being used for voter registration. In the months before the October 2018 parliamentary elections, the Taliban and other insurgent groups threatened and attacked voter registration and polling centers including many schools. Last week, the Afghan Ministry of Education announced that because of the risk, it had “submitted a plan …to find alternatives for polling stations.” However, among the alternative locations proposed were mosques, which similarly put civilians at grave risk. Until the Taliban ends its unlawful attacks on registration and polling centers, the government should ensure that no such facilities are used as official election sites.

And until all parties to Afghanistan’s conflict limit the use of explosive weapons and airstrikes in populated areas, children will continue to pay a high price.

Tribunal Stops Kenya’s Coal Plant Plans

Human Rights Watch - Monday, July 1, 2019
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Environmental activists and petitioners listen to a tribunal ruling over the construction of a coal-fired power plant, at the supreme court building in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Environmental activists in Kenya scored a unique victory last week. On June 26, the National Environmental Tribunal revoked a license issued to Amu Power Company to establish a controversial coal-fired power plant in Lamu.

The Tribunal found the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) had issued the building license even though the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was prepared without public consultation or participation.   

Following the decision, if Amu Power still plans to proceed with the project, it would need to successfully appeal the ruling or carry out a fresh ESIA, looking at the impacts of the power plant on people’s livelihoods, health, and land issues, and reapply for a license from NEMA. While this decision still allows Amu Power to restart the process, it will give Lamu activists an opportunity to raise their concerns over the establishment of a coal plant, such as their pollution of land, sea, and air; the destruction of Mangrove forests; and lack of clear mitigation measures for climate change.  

Environmental activists campaigning against the coal plant, which is linked to Lamu-Port-South-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET), a massive regional infrastructure development project that connects at least three countries, have suffered harassment by the Kenyan state authorities. Activists in Lamu, who have teamed up with other activists in and outside Kenya, have held peaceful protests, carried out community meetings, and lobbied the international community. In October 2016, they filed an appeal against Amu Power and NEMA at the Tribunal.

Activist groups such as Save Lamu and Lamu Youth Alliance have faced many challenges voicing these concerns and protesting the plant’s construction. In a joint report in December 2018, Human Rights Watch and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders found that Lamu activists opposing the construction of coal plant had faced threats, arrests, detentions by police, and arbitrary restrictions on public meetings.

By ruling that the environmental authority failed to uphold Kenya’s own environmental protection laws when granting the license to Amu, the tribunal has given authorities a chance to re-assess the plant’s impacts and make sure affected communities are consulted as the law requires. The authorities should allow everyone the space to be able to make their views known.

Women Are Fighting Flooding Crisis in the US

Human Rights Watch - Monday, July 1, 2019
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Business owners and workers assess flood waters as some start cleanup on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Harmony, Pennsylvania. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

News from the central United States is full of natural disaster, sodden houses, and suffering as a flooding crisis continues in the region. The Anthropocene Alliance (Aa), an organization with more than 30 local and regional community leaders - mostly women - from 16 US states, is demanding action.

This week, they asked the US government to take “action now to stop development in wetlands and floodplains, reform flood insurance laws, and reduce human-caused greenhouse gases that cause global warming.”  

Aa’s executive director, Harriet Festing, told me after disasters it’s often women who pull communities together and lead responses to climate change impacts. Human Rights Watch has seen this first-hand speaking to women in Puerto Rico, a US territory, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Many women spoke about how, without any support from the US government, they and others took action and provided services, from thousands of meals to safe homes for domestic violence survivors.

Women community leaders we spoke to in Puerto Rico said they have never been consulted by government disaster experts about preparing for more extreme weather events, foreseeable because of climate change science. Activists, nongovernmental organization leaders, lactation consultants, ob-gyns, and others told us their work was taken for granted or ignored after the 2017 storm.

Women globally want states to take more action against climate change. On Friday, June 28, women leaders were at the United Nations Human Rights Council demanding not just that states reduce emissions but that women, who experience global warming impacts differently and often more severely than men, are empowered to protect communities. A new report mandated by governments at the council demands “full, equal, and meaningful participation of women with diverse backgrounds in climate change mitigation and adaptation at all levels.”

The Human Rights Council’s message matters for all women living with the impacts of climate change, including those facing flooding in the central US and in Puerto Rico. And it should matter to President Donald Trump.

He may have pulled the US out of the Human Rights Council and the Paris Accord on Climate Change, and ditched his predecessor’s climate action plan. But it’s time that he, and those who want his job in 2020, start paying attention to women, especially from poor and marginalized communities, on the front lines of climate change.

Sri Lanka: Resuming Death Penalty a Major Setback

Human Rights Watch - Sunday, June 30, 2019
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President Maithripala Sirisena said he has ordered the execution of four drug offenders, which, if carried out, would end Sri Lanka’s de facto 43-year moratorium on the death penalty.

© 2019 How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP

(New York) – The Sri Lanka government should halt plans to resume executions and restore its de facto 43-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena said he has ordered the execution of four drug offenders, claiming it would end increasing addiction problems in the country.

“Sri Lanka’s plan to resume use of the death penalty is a major setback for human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Sri Lanka has been a bulwark against capital punishment in Asia for more than four decades, yet now the Sirisena government wants to throw in its lot with less rights-respecting regimes.”

The death penalty has not been carried out in Sri Lanka since 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners – 1,215 men and 84 women – are on Sri Lanka’s death row after having been convicted for capital offenses, including 48 people convicted for drug crimes.

Sirisena said he was determined to crack down on drug trafficking after over 300,000 people in Sri Lanka allegedly became addicts, with 60 percent of 24,000 prison inmates incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

The United Nations General Assembly has continually called on countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed – all with a view toward its eventual abolition.

Where the death penalty is permitted, international human rights law limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm. In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.”

In its 2014 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board, the agency charged with monitoring compliance with UN drug control conventions, encouraged countries to abolish the death penalty for drug offenses. The UN Human Rights Committee and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime.” In September 2015, the UN high commissioner for human rights reaffirmed that “persons convicted of drug-related offences … should not be subject to the death penalty.”

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. The alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty has been repeatedly debunked.

“The death penalty is a cruel practice that has no place in modern society for combating drug crimes or any other offense,” Adams said. “Sri Lanka should work toward upholding its human rights pledges and immediately rescind the execution orders.”

Events and Announcements: June 30, 2019

Opinio Juris - Sunday, June 30, 2019
Call for Papers The BISA Working Group on Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding, with funding from the BISA Postgraduate Network, is organising an interdisciplinary PGR workshop entitled ‘Militarisation and the Local in Peacekeeping: Ambition, Pragmatism and Adaptability’ to be held atCity, University of London on 20 September 2019. The workshop is the first of a four part series incorporating practitioners as well as academics and will explore...

Hong Kong: Independently Investigate Police Use of Force

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 28, 2019
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters' questions during a press conference at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Vincent Yu

(Hong Kong) — Hong Kong authorities should immediately establish an independent commission to investigate alleged excessive use of force by police on June 12, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The Hong Kong government has opposed public calls for a full inquiry into the police handling of the largely peaceful protest that day.

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“While police have a responsibility to provide public security, they need to abide by human rights standards on the use of force,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong police’s well-documented use of excessive force against peaceful protesters urgently demands a fully independent investigation.”

On June 12, Hong Kong police used beanbag rounds, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters who gathered around the Legislative Council building in opposition to two laws that would allow extradition to mainland China. At least 81 protesters were injured, according to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Police said 22 officers were injured. Human Rights Watch previously called on the police to not use excessive force to suppress peaceful protests, and expressed concern about authorities’ unwillingness to investigate police conduct.

Hong Kong authorities have rejected calls for an independent investigation and repeatedly contended that existing police complaint mechanisms are adequate in dealing with allegations of police abuse. However, the police internal review board, Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), and its oversight body, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), have long been criticized for being ineffective in holding officers accused of misconduct to account.

“Hong Kong authorities’ reputation is on the line, not only for advancing deeply unpopular legislation, but also for its treatment of protesters,” Richardson said. “Committing to an independent commission of inquiry – one that upholds Hong Kong’s human rights obligations – could help restore some credibility.”
 

Farmers Face New Round of Eviction from Protected Forests in Côte d’Ivoire

Human Rights Watch - Friday, June 28, 2019
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Children stand among houses burnt during an eviction operation in the protected forest of Goin-Débé, Côte d'Ivoire, in January 2016.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch  

Côte d’Ivoire, fighting widespread and rapidly advancing deforestation, is embarking on an ambitious plan to reclaim and rehabilitate its forests. As it moves to protect a key national resource, the government needs to be careful not to trample of the rights of the thousands of small-scale farmers now facing eviction.

Côte d’Ivoire has seen its forest decline from 50 percent of its territory in 1900 to less than 12 percent in 2015. Much of the deforestation has been driven by Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry – the world’s biggest – with the government estimating between 30 and 40 percent of cocoa comes from protected forests. Most cocoa is produced by small-scale farmers who receive only a fraction of the profits from crop sales.

In June 2018, Côte d’Ivoire published a new forestry policy that would convert most of its decimated protected forests to Agro-Forests, with multinational companies – mostly from the lucrative global chocolate industry – responsible for developing sustainable agroforestry cocoa farming methods. For the remaining forests, the Ministry for Water and Forests proposes to strictly enforce long-neglected laws banning farming and occupying protected forests and national parks.

The implementation of the new forestry policy will likely result in the evictions of thousands of small-scale cocoa farmers, with an estimated 1.5 to 2 million cocoa farmers living in protected forests and national parks in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Ghana. The Ivorian protected forest of Scio, for example, where thousands of people live, reportedly received notice of an eviction operation planned for July.

Although the Ivorian government has the right to reclaim forests intended for conservation, international law protects anyone who occupies land from forced evictions that do not respect the dignity and rights of those affected, regardless of where they are living.

Past eviction operations in Côte d’Ivoire have left farmers’ families without adequate shelter, food, and education, and we have documented extortion, corruption, and physical abuses committed by government agents conducting evictions. In an October 2017 letter on the creation of Agro-Forests, we also warned that large agricultural companies often fail to protect the rights of small-scale farmers, especially when national regulations are unclear or not enforced.

The Ivorian government is right to want to protect and rehabilitate forests. But it should ensure that evictions are only used as a last resort and farmers receive adequate notice, compensation for property and crops, and assistance finding new land or obtaining new livelihoods. Measures to protect the environment, such as the protection of protected forests, should be implemented while respecting the rights of those who live in the area.

This dispatch was cowritten with Etelle Higonnet, Campaign and Legal Director, Mighty Earth

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