IHRP external news feeds

Cambodia: Former Opposition Official Detained

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

Former CNRP official, Nuth Pich, in custody, August 17, 2019. 

© 2019 VOD

(Bangkok) – Cambodian authorities for the first time invoked a discredited 2017 Supreme Court ruling to arrest a former opposition official in Kampot province, Human Rights Watch said today. On August 17, the authorities detained Nuth Pich, a former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) provincial leader, for allegedly disobeying the court decision that dissolved the party.

The Cambodian authorities should drop all politically motivated charges against Pich, 63, and unconditionally release him.

“Cambodian authorities went into contortions to find charges to bring against Nuth Pich, who merely exercised his basic rights to free speech and association,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is just the latest baseless act of harassment against a former opposition party member.” 

In April and May, Pich helped organize gatherings of former CNRP elected officials and activists for meals of Khmer noodles, which the authorities treated as resisting the Supreme Court decision. On May 17, the Kampot provincial court issued an arrest warrant against Pich, and he promptly went into hiding. 

In early August, he came out of hiding and returned home, mistakenly believing it was safe to do so. The authorities arrested him and the court charged him with discrediting judicial decisions (article 523 of Cambodia’s penal code), incitement to commit felony decisions (article 494), and the rarely used charge of attacks that endanger the institutions of Cambodia or violate the integrity of the national territory (article 451), a charge that is punishable by 15 to 30 years in prison. 

In its charges against Pich, the court indicated it was acting on the basis of the November 16, 2017 Supreme Court decision that dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 party leaders from formal participation in political activity for five years. As a result of the ruling, elections were held on July 29, 2018 without a major opposition party. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all the seats in the National Assembly, effectively making Cambodia a one-party state.

Since the start of 2019, the authorities have summoned over 147 CNRP members and supporters around the country for questioning. On May 7, the police arrested another former Kampot provincial CNRP official, Nget Khouch. The authorities held Khouch for two nights during which time they gained access to his phone to view group messages exchanged among former CNRP members. The authorities alleged that some of the messages, in which Pich was purportedly involved, expressed support for the acting CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy, to return to Cambodia. They released Khouch after he agreed under duress to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. 

The leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, remains under highly restrictive house arrest in conditions comparable to detention. He has spent a year in pretrial detention in jail and almost one year under restrictive house arrest, but there is no indication that the authorities will send Sokha’s case to trial or release him. 

Concerned governments should call for the immediate and unconditional release of former opposition members and activists arbitrarily detained, Human Rights Watch said. 

“The Cambodian government’s crackdown on opposition parties did not end with the Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve the CNRP, but has only gotten worse,” Robertson said. “The appalling silence of the EU, US, and other foreign donors whenever a former CNRP leader is arrested should end now.” 


Algeria: Human Rights Watch Official Deported

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019
(New York) – Algerian authorities deported a Human Rights Watch official, Ahmed Benchemsi, on August 19, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities detained him for 10 hours and seized his passports, holding them for 10 days before deporting him. 

Benchemsi, the Middle East communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, had been in Algeria since August 1 on the organization’s behalf. The police detained him on August 9 at about 2 p.m. while he was observing the 25th consecutive Friday pro-democracy demonstration in downtown Algiers. They held him without allowing him to contact anyone, confiscated his cellphone and laptop computer, and ordered him to provide his passwords to unlock both devices, which he refused to do.

“Ahmed Benchemsi was in Algiers simply doing his job observing human rights conditions,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “His arbitrary arrest and mistreatment send the message that authorities don’t want the world to know about the mass protests for more democracy in Algeria.”

Benchemsi entered Algeria lawfully and disclosed his professional affiliation when asked. He had visited Algeria three times previously since 2017 for Human Rights Watch, each time lawfully entering the country.

In an effort to end Benchemsi’s ordeal as quickly as possible, Human Rights Watch did not make a public announcement about his situation during the time that authorities prevented him from leaving Algeria.

After detaining Benchemsi on August 9 and releasing him around midnight, the police gave him a summons to return to the downtown police station known as “Cavaignac” on August 13. On August 13, the police did not tell Benchemsi of any charges against him or present a search warrant, but again demanded the passwords to his devices. When he refused, they gave him a summons to return the next day.

On August 14, when he reported to the police with an attorney, Salah Dabouz, the police demanded aggressively that he provide his passwords, which he again refused to do. After four hours, the police dismissed Benchemsi and summoned him to return the next morning to appear before the prosecutor.

On August 15, Benchemsi reported to the police in the company of Dabouz. The police made them wait eight hours without bringing Benchemsi before the prosecutor. At the end of the day, the police gave him a second summons to appear before the prosecutor on August 18.

On August 18, after having Benchemsi wait all morning, the police transferred him to the headquarters of the Police Brigade for Foreigners, where officials told Benchemsi that they might soon deport him.

Benchemsi remained in police custody overnight and was placed on a flight to Casablanca, Morocco on the afternoon of August 19. Algerian authorities returned his passports and electronic devices before he boarded the plane. He entered Morocco without incident.

At no time did Algerian authorities notify Benchemsi of any charges against him or the legal basis for confiscating and retaining his passports, phone, and laptop, or for demanding that he surrender the passwords to the devices. Nor did authorities provide the legal grounds for deporting him. Algerian news websites reported on August 18 that the prosecutor in Sidi Mhamed had ordered his expulsion, but Benchemsi never appeared before or spoke with a prosecutor.

The police at various times deprived Benchemsi of his ability to communicate with others, including his lawyer, and threatened him with physical violence, but did not physically mistreat him.

Since February, huge numbers of Algerians have marched every Friday in the streets of the capital and other cities, overwhelmingly peacefully, initially against the candidacy for re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and, after his resignation on April 2, for a transition toward a more democratic government.

Benchemsi is a dual Moroccan and US citizen. He had visited Algeria this August to monitor human rights developments in Algeria, especially those related to freedom of assembly and expression in the context of the pro-democracy protests. Algeria is among the more than 90 countries that Human Rights Watch monitors around the world.

“Benchemsi’s mistreatment is a sobering reminder of the risks faced every day by Algerian human rights defenders exposing and reporting on government abuses,” Roth said. 


India: Ensure Rights Protections in Kashmir

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

A cyclist rides past paramilitary troopers standing on guard during the curfew in Srinagar. Strict curfew and a total communication blackout in Kashmir valley following the decision taken by the central government to scrap article 370 which grants special status to Jammu & Kashmir. 

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

(New York) – The Indian government should ensure that rights are protected after lifting some restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir State, Human Rights Watch said today. The government announced that it had partially restored landline connections, reopened schools, and withdrawn the ban on large gatherings. The government imposed the restrictions after it revoked the state’s special autonomous status on August 5, 2019, and split it into two federally governed territories.

The authorities reported violent protests in which eight people were injured over the weekend of August 17-18. Hundreds of political leaders and activists remain in detention, including many outside Kashmir, without access to family members or legal counsel. The government has acknowledged only a “few preventive detentions,” to maintain “law and order and avoid breach of the peace.” While the authorities said on August 16 that landlines would be restored in Muslim majority areas, access to mobile phones and the internet is still denied in much of the region.

“The Indian government can’t just claim to be lifting restrictions in Kashmir, but needs to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials should cease using broad, repressive means to curtail the flow of information, or to prevent people from peacefully assembling and expressing their views.”

On August 5, the authorities shut down all forms of communication in Jammu and Kashmir, including internet, cell phones, and landlines. The government also imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement and banned public meetings. The disruption to internet and telecommunication services has exacerbated an information blackout, while the restrictions on movement placed vulnerable people at risk, hindering access to crucial medical care and other services.

The authorities also asked the social media site Twitter to suspend some accounts for allegedly spreading false information. The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye, expressed concern over the current communication clampdown.

India is obligated under international human rights law to ensure that internet-based restrictions are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern. The UN Human Rights Council in July 2016 condemned measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online, and said that all countries should cease such measures.

There have been reports of sporadic protests in Kashmir since August 5, and of security forces using pellet shotguns that have led to about a dozen injuries. The use of pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon in Kashmir has received widespread condemnation because of the large number of protester deaths and injuries.

The Indian government should publicly direct the security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and take all other necessary steps to ensure that the forces act with restraint, Human Rights Watch said. Protest organizers should take steps to deter their supporters from engaging in violence against members of the public and law enforcement officers.

Agence France-Presse reported that the authorities have detained thousands of Kashmiris under the Public Safety Act, a controversial law that allows detention for up to two years without charge or trial. On August 15, the authorities detained Shah Faesal, a Kashmiri politician, a day after he gave an interview to the media criticizing the government’s decision. Local activists issued a fact-finding report saying that children had been detained as well.

The government should periodically release lists of those detained, inform families of their whereabouts, and ensure that detainees have proper access to their families and legal counsel, Human Rights Watch said. International human rights law generally prohibits detention without charge and requires prompt and regular judicial review to prevent arbitrary detention.

The government says it has adopted these measures to ensure law and order. Accusing Pakistan of instigating violent protests and militant attacks, the government has also deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region. On August 16, the United Nations Security Council held a closed-door consultation to discuss increasing tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed region.

In July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a 43-page report raising serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. The UN found that Indian security forces often used excessive force to respond to violent protests that began in July 2016. And it decried the lack of justice for past abuses such as killing and forced displacement of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, enforced disappearances, and alleged sexual violence by Indian security forces personnel. The Indian government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.”

“Instead of denying human rights violations, Indian authorities should draw lessons from past mistakes, ensure accountability, and act to prevent further abuses,” Ganguly said. “Concerned governments and the United Nations should press India to implement the High Commissioner’s recommendations and to protect the human rights of all in Kashmir.”


US: Cease Force-feeding Migrant Hunger Strikers

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

Screenshot from a 2013 video of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) volunteering to undergo the standard operating procedures for force-feeding of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. 

© 2013 The Guardian/YouTube

(El Paso) – The United States government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency should immediately cease force-feeding three hunger striking detainees, Human Rights Watch said today. In an emergency hearing later today, lawyers for one of the strikers will ask a federal court in El Paso to reverse an order to authorize his force-feeding.

The Associated Press reported last week that officials were force-feeding one detainee as of last Wednesday, and on Friday a court authorized the force-feeding of two more men who had been on a hunger strike for 39 days. All three men are Indian nationals.

Authorities should not force-feed detainees who are competent and capable of rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food. In addition, the force-feeding method used in detention – which involves shoving a plastic tube down a patient’s nose – can be very painful and is inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading.

Dr. Michelle Iglesias, the doctor responsible for the care of hunger strikers in ICE detention at the El Paso Processing Center where the men are held, testified in a federal court hearing observed by Human Rights Watch on Friday that her patients were indeed “capable and competent enough to make a decision” and that they’d made the choice to continue their hunger strike despite having been made aware of the medical risks.

“ICE should immediately stop the cruel, inhuman, and degrading process of force-feeding any detainees who have made a competent decision to stop eating as a form of protest,” said Ariana Sawyer, assistant researcher in the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Hunger striking is a desperate expressive act. In immigration detention, it can be a response to the irrationality of prolonged and needless detention.”

While one of the hunger strikers had been hospitalized with abdominal pain, another quietly watched Friday’s proceedings unfold from a wheelchair beside an attorney. He appeared severely emaciated but alert and had been forced to wear shackles around his thin ankles.

When asked under cross-examination if the hunger strikers would be better off released from detention and at home, the ICE doctor said simply: “Yes.”

The judicial orders authorizing the force-feeding of the three detainees are under seal, but in court, US District Judge David Guaderrama said the US government has a responsibility to act to prevent the death of anyone in custody.

Commenting on the ruling, Linda Corchado, the immigration attorney for the three men and director of Legal Services at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said, “Without placing more of a burden on ICE to explore all humane forms of preserving the lives of people under its custody, justice will never reach the thousands of detained asylum seekers who remain under the sole custody of ICE.”

There are alternatives to detention, including the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) and the Electronic Monitoring Device (EMD) Program, which allow officers to closely monitor released immigrants while avoiding the unnecessary abuses that plague the US immigration detention system.

In January this year, ICE was force-feeding at least six immigrant detainees protesting their conditions of detention. An investigation published by the Associated Press at the time indicated that nearly 30 men – mostly from India and Cuba – in the El Paso Processing Center were refusing food to protest prolonged detentions, as well as allegations of “rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards.” ICE officials then confirmed that 11 men were on hunger strike in El Paso and another 4 elsewhere in the United States.

United Nations human rights experts have condemned the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners and detainees in other contexts, and the World Medical Association (WMA) has said “the forced feeding of hunger strikers is unethical and is never justified” and that “the final decision to intervene must take into account the hunger striker’s informed decision and must lie with the physician and not with any non-medical authority.”

The hunger strikers’ doctor testified that she was ultimately requesting the order to force-feed them based solely on ICE policy.


‘Killer Robots:’ Russia, US Oppose Treaty Negotiations

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

At the United Nations in Geneva the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots called on governments to not allow the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without any human intervention.

© 2018 Clare Conboy

(Geneva) – Russia, the United States, and a handful of other nations investing in autonomous weapons are preventing efforts to start negotiations on a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than 70 member countries of the Convention on Conventional Weapons will meet in Geneva on August 20 and 21, 2019 for their eighth meeting since 2014 to discuss concerns raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.” But the Convention on Conventional Weapons’ “all talk, no action” approach indicates that it is incapable of dealing with this threat, Human Rights Watch said.

“Most governments want to negotiate a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “But with a small number of countries blocking any progress, these diplomatic talks increasingly look like an attempt to buy time and distract public attention rather than to urgently address the serious challenges raised by killer robots.”

Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urge states party to the convention to agree to begin negotiations in November for a new treaty to require meaningful human control over the use of force, which would effectively prohibit fully autonomous weapons. Only new international law can effectively address the multiple moral, legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns raised by killer robots.

The Convention on Conventional Weapons talks began in 2014 and were formalized three years later, but still have not produced anything more than some non-binding principles. Russia and the United States, as well as Australia, Israel, and the United Kingdom, opposed calls to move to negotiate a new treaty at the last meeting on killer robots in March, calling such a move premature.

At the previous talks, almost all countries have called for retaining some form of human control over the use of force, which is effectively equivalent to a ban on weapons that lack such control. To date, 28 countries have explicitly supported a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

There is increasing evidence that developing these weapons would run contrary to the dictates of public conscience, Human Rights Watch said. Thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts, more than 20 Nobel Peace Laureates, and more than 160 religious leaders and organizations of various denominations also support a ban on killer robots. In 2018, Google released a set of ethical principles that includes a pledge not to develop artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

Killer robots would be unable to apply either compassion or nuanced legal and ethical judgment to decisions to use lethal forcce. Without these human qualities, the weapons would face significant obstacles in ensuring the humane treatment of others and showing respect for human life and dignity. 

According to international humanitarian law, the dictates of public conscience and principles of humanity should be upheld when there is no specific relevant treaty, which is the case with killer robots.

The 28 countries that have called for the ban are: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 112 nongovernmental organizations in 56 countries that is working to preemptively ban the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

“Both prohibitions and positive obligations are needed to ensure that systems that select and engage targets do not undermine ethical values and are always subject to meaningful human control,” Goose said. “The public expects greater efforts from governments to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons, before they proliferate widely – in fact, nothing less than a legally-binding ban treaty.”


Emerging Voices: Theorising Universal Jurisdiction–Time to Reappraise the “Piracy Analogy”?

Opinio Juris - Monday, August 19, 2019
[Mark Chadwick is a Lecturer in Law at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University.] Universal jurisdiction remains a contested area of international law.  By permitting domestic legislatures and courts to exercise jurisdiction over heinous international crimes, regardless of “where the crime was committed, the nationality of the alleged or convicted perpetrator, the nationality of the victim, or any other connection...

Afghanistan: FIFA Sexual Abuse Investigations Stall

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

(New York) – The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) needs to act more swiftly on complaints and evidence brought by women players of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by leaders of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF), Human Rights Watch said today. Specifically, FIFA needs to speedily and fairly investigate all AFF members accused of facilitating abuse, and set up effective measures to ensure the safety of whistleblowers and survivors.

Afghanistan’s attorney general should ensure that all AFF officials apparently responsible for the sexual abuse of female players, as well as those accused of facilitating the abuse or covering it up, including senior members of the AFF, are subject to criminal investigation. Those found responsible should be prosecuted in each case where evidence suggests their culpability.

Female players, coaches, and whistleblowers have taken enormous risks over the past three years to collect evidence and file written complaints with FIFA against the powerful male leaders of the AFF, including the federation’s president, Keramuddin Karim. After hearing testimony regarding horrific incidents of sexual abuse, FIFA’s Ethics Committee suspended Karim for life and fined him 1 million Swiss francs (about US$1 million) in June 2019. Karim has not been arrested, though Afghanistan’s attorney general issued a warrant for his arrest in June. Moreover, FIFA, which holds significant influence over its member associations, has yet to conduct a full investigation of all officials who may be culpable.

“The president of the Afghan Football Federation has been kicked out of football after FIFA’s Ethics Committee found him responsible for abuses,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “But a full test of FIFA’s human rights policy is whether sport is safe for women and girls in Afghanistan – and they won’t be safe until all abusers, including those who enabled crimes, are removed and protective systems for whistleblowing, justice, and remedy are in place.”

The coach of the Afghan women’s national team, Kelly Lindsey, wrote in an August letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino that the governing body has not addressed the “widespread culture of abuse” by “senior officials in ongoing positions of power” at the Afghan federation and “complicity at all levels of the AFF.”

Afghanistan’s women’s national football team was founded in 2011 and has operated from the beginning under the control – including pay, travel, and training – of the male-led federation. Sexual assault and other abuses of female players, including girls as young as 14, are reported to have taken place between 2013 and 2018 in the federation president’s office and at a training camp in Jordan in February 2018.

FIFA was alerted to sexual and other abuses as early as April 2017, and eventually opened an investigation, asking Lindsey and a former team captain, Khalida Popal, to gather evidence. Karim’s lifetime ban came after a FIFA investigation found him guilty of “having abused his position and sexually abused various female players, in violation of the FIFA code of ethics.”

“We are football coaches and players, not investigators – yet we did our best, knowing the lives of our players were at immediate risk and at significant cost to our safety and wellbeing,” Lindsey said. “My colleagues and I went right to the top of FIFA, we went to the Ethics Committee and told everyone who would listen that our girls were telling us they had been raped, beaten and abused. The evidence we gathered pointed clearly to a widespread culture of abuse. Yet to date there has been no evidence of any investigation into the conduct of the other AFF officials who continue to hold office while accused.”

The AFF’s general secretary, Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada, was suspended by the Attorney General’s office during an investigation into his alleged role in the abuse of women players. However, in April, he was elected to the regional governing executive committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Human Rights Watch wrote to FIFA for comment and asked the global football governing body to confirm that full and proper investigations are underway.

FIFA replied:

We can confirm that FIFA is carefully looking into allegations that have been made against additional persons. As stated before, FIFA will not hesitate to impose sanctions if and when justified, just as it recently did in the case of the President of the association, who has been banned from football for life.

Since the investigations before the FIFA Ethics Committee are confidential, we cannot comment further on the case. For the rest, we understand that criminal investigations are underway in Afghanistan with regard to some of the matters relating to this complaint and, for its part, FIFA hopes that all those guilty of such crimes will be brought to justice by the relevant authorities and will be held fully accountable.

Where there is an ongoing risk to the safety of others, especially the safety of children or vulnerable adults, individuals who are the subject of serious abuse allegations should be immediately suspended by local law enforcement and FIFA pending full investigation.

“The crisis in Afghan women’s football shows that abusers can get in the system and then there is no way women can access justice,” Khalida Popal, now the program director for the Afghan women’s football team, told Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch long urged FIFA to set up a mechanism for human rights defenders and whistleblowers to file complaints, which FIFA has now done. However, any adequate whistleblowing and investigative system should protect those who bring complaints against retaliation, and should not place the responsibility of investigating, collecting evidence, or furnishing proof on players and coaches.

FIFA should create new eligibility requirements under its Human Rights Policy for all federations, regional bodies like the AFC, and FIFA membership and leadership. These requirements should make anyone who is the subject of any ongoing credible abuse investigation ineligible for any role in a FIFA body where they can intimidate witnesses or influence the investigation. Individuals found to have engaged in serious abuses should be barred from FIFA membership and jobs.

“Whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault should be able to expect that FIFA will conduct timely and thorough investigations of all abuse allegations,” Worden said. “Going forward, FIFA needs to urgently put in place a system fit for purpose that will meet international standards of addressing sexual assault, care, and justice for survivors.”

Emerging Voices: Immigration, Iris-Scanning and iBorderCTRL–The Human Rights Impacts of Technological Experiments in Migration

Opinio Juris - Monday, August 19, 2019
[Petra Molnar is a Lawyer and Research Associate at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law. This post is based on author’s research at the University of Cambridge.] Detention of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border; wrongful deportation of 7,000 foreign students accused of cheating on a language test; racist or sexist discrimination based on social media...

Australia: Inquiry into Rule Putting Older People at Risk

Human Rights Watch - Monday, August 19, 2019

(Sydney) – Australia’s parliament should scrap a new rule that allows nursing homes to overmedicate and restrain older people, a group of organizations working for older people’s rights in Australia said today. On August 20, 2019 in Sydney, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold a hearing on human rights concerns relating to the new rule. Human Rights Watch, Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), and others will appear.

The group includes ADA Australia, Capacity Australia, Dementia Alliance International, and Human Rights Watch.

“The Australian government rule is trying to regulate abusive practices that harm older people rather than prohibit them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of a parliamentary inquiry into this matter is a critical opportunity to address the regulation’s serious shortcomings.”

In April, the Australian government introduced a new rule to regulate both physical restraints and overmedication, also known as chemical restraint, in aged care facilities. The use of physical or chemical restraints as punishment, control, retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff should be prohibited, in line with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

Authorities should instead make sure that any medical intervention takes place only with free and informed consent, and that medications are administered only for therapeutic purposes. The government should prioritize positive support and intervention for people with dementia, including in aged care facilities.

On May 23, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Australian parliament, urging its joint committee on human rights to move to disallow the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2010.

In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticized Australia for allowing practices that would subject people with disabilities, including older people with dementia, to “unregulated behaviour modification or restrictive practices such as chemical, mechanical and physical restraints and seclusion.” The committee called on Australia to end these practices.  

In addition to the physical, social, and emotional harm for older people restrained with antipsychotic drugs, the use of such drugs in older people with dementia is also associated with a nearly doubled risk of death. It also limits their ability to eat, communicate, think, and stay awake.

“Older people in nursing homes are at serious risk of harm if this new aged care regulation is allowed to stand as is,” said Geoff Rowe, CEO at ADA Australia. “Australia’s parliament should act urgently to ensure that everyone, including older people, is free from the threat of chemical restraint.”

Human Rights Watch has documented the harm of overmedicating older people living in nursing homes in the United States.