IHRP external news feeds

India: Rights Groups Harassed Over Foreign Funding

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 26, 2019

(New York) – A criminal case against the Lawyers Collective is the latest use of the foreign funding law by the Indian authorities to harass outspoken rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International India said today.

On June 18, 2019, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a criminal case against the Lawyers Collective for allegedly violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). The group provides legal aid, advocates for the rights of marginalized groups, campaigns to end discrimination against LGBTQ people, and seeks enforcement of workplace sexual harassment laws.

“The Indian authorities are evidently targeting the Lawyers Collective because of their work defending human rights activists and advocating for the rights of marginalized groups,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India. “The repeated misuse of the foreign funding law restricts groups’ ability to operate in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.”

The CBI has accused the Lawyers Collective of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, and cheating under the Indian Penal Code and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. These allegations are based on a 2016 Home Affairs Ministry inspection report that alleged financial irregularities against the organization and its co-founders, the prominent lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising. It claimed that the organization used the funds for activities that violated the foreign funding law, notably “lobbying with members of parliament and thereby influencing the political process and parliamentary institutions.”

While governments may limit certain political activities of nongovernmental organizations in exchange for tax benefits, the broad restrictions on groups that obtain foreign funding violates basic free expression and association rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International India said.

The Home Ministry allegation against the Lawyers Collective is inconsistent given that the Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), amended the FCRA first in 2016 and then in 2018 to retroactively legalize foreign funding made to political parties. The foreign funding law had been enacted largely to prohibit political parties and politicians from accepting foreign support to prevent foreign interests from influencing Indian elections. But in 2014, the Delhi High Court found that the BJP and the Congress Party had received foreign funding, in violation of the foreign funding law. The law was then amended to prevent any retroactive action from being taken against the political parties.

The government first suspended Lawyers Collective’s FCRA license in May 2016 and later cancelled it in November 2016, also freezing bank accounts. The Lawyers Collective has challenged the cancellation and non-renewal of the license in the Bombay High Court. While the case is pending, in January 2017, the court ordered the authorities to release its domestic bank accounts.

The allegations and charges against the Lawyers Collective appear to be an attempt to silence the group because of its work representing people in cases against the government, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International India said. The Lawyers Collective has represented activists facing a range of politically motivated allegations, including those that sought prosecutions for the 2002 targeted attacks on Muslims in Gujarat, or others that have defended the rights of tribal groups and Dalits.

Civil society groups, activists, doctors, and patient rights’ advocates have condemned the government’s actions against the Lawyers Collective. The National Human Rights Commission also sought a status report from the CBI on its investigation against the group.

Since 2014, several organizations have been targeted under the foreign funding law, including Greenpeace India, Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, NGO Hazards Centre, and Indian Social Action Forum.

The authorities’ use of the foreign funding law against the Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns, a prominent Indian human rights organization better known for its program unit, People’s Watch, also highlights the law’s use for reprisal. When the group challenged the government’s decision not to renew its FCRA in the Delhi High Court in 2016, the Home Affairs Ministry told the court that the group used foreign funding to share information with United Nations special rapporteurs and foreign embassies, “portraying India’s human rights record in negative light…to the detriment of India’s image.”

The government characterized this as “undesirable activities detrimental to national interest,” effectively trying to target the group for promoting international human rights standards.

The government appears to be disregarding court rulings upholding the rights of civil society groups to freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International India said. The courts have repeatedly reminded the government that in a democracy, peaceful dissent is protected and may not be muzzled.

The government has also failed to provide substantive replies to questions from the National Human Rights Commission regarding alleged misuse of the foreign funding law against nongovernmental groups, and to explain why these restrictions do not violate international law and standards. For instance, in November 2016, the commission questioned the government’s decision not to renew the FCRA license for Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns. The government submitted a response in December 2016, but the commission said that its reply “was vague to say the least.” Despite the commission’s repeated calls, the government provided no updated response.

The foreign funding law’s vague provisions and its misuse have also received international condemnation. In April 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association published a legal analysis asserting that the FCRA was not in conformity with international law, principles, and standards. In June 2016, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, on freedom of opinion and expression, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, called on the Indian government to repeal the FCRA, which they said was “being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

While it is appropriate to regulate and scrutinize the financial affairs of not-for-profit organizations and nongovernmental organizations to address corruption and legitimate national security concerns, the FCRA is too broad and unnecessarily infringes on the activities of organizations that address social issues in India. The Indian government should repeal the law, or amend it so that it does not interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association, and cannot be misused for political reasons to restrict the peaceful activities of nongovernmental organizations, Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said.

“The Indian government talks about inclusive development and commitment to basic rights and yet is targeting lawyers and activists who seek to protect the rights of the most vulnerable,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Democratic governments should not fear criticism and should certainly not target activists for their ideology or commitment to upholding civil liberties.” 

Iraq: Amputation Apparently Caused by Torture

Human Rights Watch - Wednesday, June 26, 2019



A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

    © 2018 Private

(Beirut) – The amputation of a detainee’s arm in early 2019 following apparent torture in a Baghdad police station highlights mounting concerns around ill-treatment in Iraq’s prisons, Human Rights Watch said today.

The man’s brother said that a complaint by the victim during his trial has been ignored and that a complaint by his wife to the agency that supervises judicial conduct had received no response. The brother said he had requested an investigation, which led to the transfer of a police officer but no disciplinary action. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.

“A detainee who loses his arm because of torture in custody is one more sign that something is very wrong in Iraqi detention facilities,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should take detainees’ rights seriously and start to protect them by investigating abuses.”

Iraqi judges, despite the extensive credible reports of torture in detention, routinely fail to investigate torture allegations, Human Rights Watch has found. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous torture allegations in Iraq, in at least two cases leading to deaths in custody since January 2018.

A man who requested anonymity to protect himself and his family told Human Rights Watch that an acquaintance of his 40-year-old brother had named the brother as an accomplice in a car theft. Police arrested him in late March 2018. A week later, his brother visited him at Harthiya police station. The jailed brother told him that during an extended interrogation in which an interrogator was trying to extract a confession, he had “hung him from his hands for three days,” and showed his brother the bruises.

The jailed brother underwent a forensic medical exam in May 2018. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the report, which noted bruising and swelling to his left hand and arm all the way to his shoulder and recommended that he see a doctor who specialized in bones and fractures.

He did not receive medical treatment until July, when police transferred him to Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. The man said he was allowed to accompany his brother and heard a doctor tell the officer guarding his brother that the brother had been tortured, which the officer denied. Doctors performed surgery on his arm three times over the next 10 months in an unsuccessful attempt to repair arterial damage. In April 2019, the man said, officers took his brother to Ghazi al-Hariri Hospital in Baghdad, where doctors amputated his arm and then returned him to police custody.


A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

© 2018 Private

In December 2018, the brother who spoke to Human Rights Watch contacted Major General Hussein Ali Dana, the then head of Baghdad Inspection Directorate in the Interior Ministry to demand an investigation into the abuse his brother suffered. He said Dana sent a team to investigate and told the man later that he had ordered the transfer of the officer the jailed brother accused to another police station in Baghdad but did not discipline him further. Human Rights Watch contacted the directorate’s current head, who said that without the exact date of the December complaint, the office could not provide any information on the investigation.

In January 2019, the jailed brother’s wife lodged a complaint with the presidency of the Judicial Supervisory Authority, which monitors the conduct of judges and staff in all Iraqi courts, because her husband told her that in late 2018 a judge had forced him to sign a statement dropping his right to pursue charges against the officer who had tortured him. She told Human Rights Watch she had not heard anything since. On June 25, Chief Justice Jassim Alumairi, the Judicial Supervisory Council president, told Human Rights Watch that a team had investigated the allegation but had not found evidence to substantiate it, but could not share any of the documents related to the investigation with Human Rights Watch.

On April 14, a court found the jailed brother guilty of car theft and sentenced him and five other defendants to 15 years in prison. At the trial, his wife said, she heard him tell the judge that an interrogator tortured him leading to his arm being amputated but the judge ignored the claim. He is currently still being held at Harthiya police station.

Iraq’s High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises affairs of the federal judiciary, should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges torture, Human Rights Watch said. Judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment to protect them from retaliation. They should prosecute anyone against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in torture.

“Iraq’s judiciary, law enforcement, and prison authorities owe all Iraqis a commitment to investigate each and every credible allegation of cruel treatment,” Fakih said. “What happened to this detainee should never happen to anyone in the government’s custody.” 

Russia: Environmentalist Faces Criminal Charges

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Alexandra Koroleva, Zelenogradsk, Kaliningrad region, Russia. 

© 2018 Private (Moscow) – A prominent Russian environmentalist has fled the country as criminal cases were opened against her in connection to Russia’s law on “foreign agents”, Human Rights Watch said today. Alexandra Koroleva, 65, head of Ekozaschita! (Ecodefence!), one of Russia’s oldest environmental groups, is seeking asylum in Germany because in Russia, among other things, she could be imprisoned for two years for being held criminally liable for unpaid fines levied against Ekozaschita! under the abusive law.

Koroleva’s group refused to register under the 2012 law that requires any Russian group accepting foreign funding and carrying out activities deemed to be “political” to register as a foreign agent, a term that in Russia implies “spy” or “traitor.” However, in 2014, the Justice Ministry forcibly added Ekozaschita! to the “foreign agents” registry. The group and its supporters believe the move was a reaction to their campaign against the construction of a nuclear plant in the Kaliningrad region, where the group is based. The government should drop the cases against Koroleva.

“Instead of celebrating Koroleva’s lifelong commitment to environmental activism, Russian authorities have forced her into exile,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The cases against Koroleva should be dropped, and Russia should repeal its ‘foreign agents’ law once and for all.”

Human Rights Watch and multiple other human rights organizations and bodies have repeatedly condemned the Law on Foreign Agents as a violation of human rights norms, and called for its repeal. Ekozaschita!/Ecodefence! and 48 other Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have applications pending before the European Court of Human Rights (application no. 9988/13) arguing that the Law on Foreign Agents violates several human rights norms including on freedom of expression and association, a conclusion endorsed by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

Although, as a matter of principle, Ekozaschita! did not comply with the reporting requirements in the “foreign agents” law, it continued to file all other reports required of civil society organizations by authorities in a timely manner. In May 2019, the Federal Court Bailiff Service opened five criminal cases against Koroleva for unpaid fines amounting to approximately US$18,000. Information about the cases was only made public in recent days.

Between 2016 and 2018, both Ekozaschita! and Koroleva in her personal capacity were fined on numerous occasions for failure to submit the reports under the “foreign agents” law and for refusal to publicly identify the group as a “foreign agent” organization. However, Elena Pershakova, a lawyer at Public Verdict Foundation who represents Ekozaschita! and Koroleva, said Koroleva did not receive any notifications about the fines and did not know she had to take action.

The Federal Bailiff Service referred six unpaid fines for enforcement proceedings after the payment deadlines had expired. The fines range between 10,000 and 100,000 rubles (approx. US$150 and US$1,500), and the enforcement proceedings entailed an additional 10,000 rubles per case. The total amount of fines against Koroleva and Ekozaschita! deemed overdue by Russian authorities is about US$18,000. Koroleva’s colleagues are trying to raise the money on several crowdfunding platforms in the hopes that paying the fines will prevent Koroleva’s conviction.

In November 2018, Russian authorities froze Ekozaschita!’s bank accounts - as they had the power to do under the Law on Foreign Agents -, leaving it unable to make any payments and effectively blocking its activities. In March, after the group found out about the fines, Ekozaschita!’s lawyer filed an application for the group’s liquidation, but the Justice Ministry refused to accept it. Ekozaschita! is planning to go to court to contest the refusal, the lawyer said.

The Justice Ministry has initiated liquidation proceedings against several nongovernmental groups that it forcibly registered as foreign agents, including such prominent groups as Golos, an election watchdog, and Agora, a human rights litigation group. More than 30 organizations have shut down rather than accept the false and stigmatizing label of “foreign agent.”

Currently, the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign agents” includes 75 organizations. Under the law, offenses such as refusal to declare and register one’s organization as “foreign agent”, to submit reports as “foreign agents,” or to put a “foreign agent” marker on all publications, websites, and even staff business cards are punishable by fines of up to 500,000 rubles (approx. US$8,000); and there is no limit on the number of fines an organization can be ordered to pay. In November 2017, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting how the law has been used to silence some of the country’s most effective, rigorous, and committed environmental groups.

In June 2017, authorities in the Rostov region brought criminal proceedings against Valentina Cherevatenko, a prominent rights activist, for “malicious evasion” of the “foreign agents” law, but dropped the case several weeks later. Her case had been the only example of attempted criminal prosecution of an organization’s leader under the “foreign agents” law until the authorities targeted Koroleva.

“The cases against Koroleva are meant to punish her and her environmental group at a time when environmental activism and protests in Russia are on the rise,” Aitkhozhina said. “But the message the authorities want to send through the ‘foreign agents’ law is broader—that any organization that engages in activism in Russia does so at its own peril.”

France: Aid Worker’s Defamation Conviction Upheld

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Loan Torondel, 21, worked with L’Auberge des Migrants in Calais for two years, helping to provide legal information and support and humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in northern France.

© 2018 Loan Torondel (Paris) – An appeals court’s confirmation of the defamation conviction of an aid worker on June 24, 2019 for an ironic tweet sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The case was a serious escalation in harassment and intimidation of aid workers in France

The Court of Appeal in Douai, northern France, found Loan Torondel, the aid worker, guilty of defamation for a tweet he published in early January 2018 and sentenced him to pay a 1,500 euro fine (about US$1,700), which it suspended, and ordered him to pay damages and court costs. It was the first defamation case against an aid worker in France for criticizing the French government’s actions against migrants. Torondel told Human Rights Watch that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation, France’s court of last resort.

“This decision against Loan Torondel is a worrying precedent and a blow to freedom of expression,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “It resonates as a pernicious intimidation against staff or volunteers for organizations that speak out against police abuses against migrants.”

In January 2018, while working for the Auberge des Migrants, which provides crucial assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, Torondel published a tweet criticizing abusive police practices toward migrants. This tweet, with a photo showing two police officers standing over a young man seated in a field, imagined that the young man was protesting against the confiscation of his sleeping bag in the middle of winter and that the officer replied: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir,” an allusion to a speech President Emmanuel Macron gave in late December 2017.

Torondel was prosecuted following a complaint by one of the police officers and was sentenced by the first instance by a court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on September 25.

Torondel worked with Human Rights Watch earlier in 2019, and the organization is about to resume the collaboration to research police practices during identity checks in France.

A volunteer operating in Calais, Tom Ciotkowski, was also prosecuted, for “insult and violence” after filming French police officers who were impeding a food distribution to migrants and asylum seekers by volunteers in Calais. But he was acquitted on June 20 by the Boulogne-sur-Mer court. 

Torondel's conviction and Ciotkowski’s prosecution expand on what aid workers have regularly described as harassment by the French police to hinder or prevent aid workers and volunteers supporting migrants and asylum seekers from carrying out their work in Calais.

The aid workers have reported repeated fines for minor infractions and parking violations, excessive use of identity checks, and temporary confiscations of mobile phones to look through or delete their content. In some cases, aid workers have reported being improperly sprayed with tear gas or pushed or insulted by police officers. 

Human Rights Watch, the French Defender of Rights, UN observers, and four associations in Calais reported abusive practices by the police in Calais, both against migrants and asylum seekers and against aid workers. Amnesty International recently published a detailed report on the criminalization and harassment of people defending refugee and migrant rights in northern France. 

Criminal defamation laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary restriction on free speech and create a “chilling effect” that effectively restricts legitimate as well as harmful speech. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), together with the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression, have called for the abolition of such laws.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has said that countries should take particular care to ensure that defamation laws – civil or criminal – “should never be used to prevent criticism of government” and “should reflect the principle that public figures are required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private citizens.”

“Obstructing assistance to migrants and bringing legal proceedings that criminalize the denunciation of abuses is a shameful tactic to deter solidarity,” Jeannerod said. “France should not go down this dangerous path, which reduces the working space of both aid workers and government critics.”

EU Court Condemns Poland’s Judicial Takeover

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf addresses supporters and the media before entering the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland, July 4, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The European Union’s top court has dealt a blow to the Polish government’s efforts to take over the country’s courts.

The EU Court of Justice ruled yesterday that an April 2018 law that forced scores of Supreme Court judges into retirement is contrary to EU law. The judges were replaced by others loyal to Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party.

The judgment is important as it puts beyond doubt that the rule of law backslide in Poland has reached a point where core values of the EU are being threatened and breached. The judgment followed an October 2018 interim EU Court of Justice decision ordering the Polish government to suspend the application of the law, which authorities complied with.

That court’s ruling also shows that the European Commission made the right decision in December 2017 when it launched a political sanctions process against Poland under Article 7 of the EU treaty, which allows for action when an EU government takes steps that create a serious risk of breach of EU values. The Article 7 process now sits with the EU Council of Member States. The Commission has also launched three enforcement actions against Poland over laws that breach its EU duties.

Attacks on the judiciary in Poland has been the focus of EU concern since the ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and almost immediately began its campaign to roll back democratic and rule of law safeguards.

The government has taken steps to silence independent media outlets and journalists, engages in abuses of migrants and refugees, and regularly demonizes and obstructs the work of human rights organizations dealing with topics at odds with its conservative, populist policies, including LGBT, refugee, and women’s rights. The government frequently lashes out against its own Ombudsman for doing his job in holding the government to account over its human rights record.

The last time the EU Court of Justice ruled against Poland, the government took action, albeit narrowly. Now it’s up to Poland to repeal this law and ensure affected judges are immediately reinstated or compensated for being sacked unlawfully, and also take steps to act on wider recommendations of EU institutions and its own ombudsman.

The Khashoggi Case: Implications of the Report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur

Opinio Juris - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, released her report into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last Wednesday. The report traces with careful detail the run up to, and the eventual extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, analyzing the available evidence and applicable international law.  The release of the report...

Bahrain: Questions to Ask at Palestine Workshop

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bahraini anti-government protesters hold up images of jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a solidarity protest on May 14, 2015. © AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

(Beirut) – Participants in the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop on June 25 and 26 in Manama, and journalists covering the event, should question Bahraini officials about the government’s jailing of human rights defenders and suppression of free expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The Trump administration organized the economic workshop as part of its Middle East peace plan.

“In a bitter twist of irony, Bahrain, which regularly stamps out dissent with arbitrary detention, censorship, and torture, has been selected to host a workshop on peace to prosperity,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Journalists attending the workshop should press the Bahraini government on rights abuses at home.”

Independent and foreign journalists rarely have access to Bahrain, and Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups are routinely denied access. International wire services, when they cover Bahrain, do so from Dubai or elsewhere outside the country. Bahrain has not responded to requests from United Nations experts to visit. The visit of the special rapporteur on torture that had been accepted for 2013 was postponed indefinitely.

Journalists allowed to enter Bahrain to cover the economic workshop should also ask Bahrain five tough questions about its own rights record:

  1. Why are you detaining peaceful activists, such as Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja?

Bahraini authorities have arrested and harassed scores of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition leaders, often on dubious national security grounds and in most cases for peaceful acts of protest.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been imprisoned for three years and is serving a five-year sentence arising from his tweets alleging torture in the Jaw prison and criticizing the Saudi and UAE-led military campaign in Yemen. Rajab was charged with disseminating false news and insulting a foreign country. Rajab appears at times to have been subjected to treatment that may amount to arbitrary punishment, and his family has reported that his health has deteriorated in detention.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, another peaceful dissident, is serving a life sentence for his role in organizing peaceful protests calling for political reform during the 2011 Arab Spring. He was convicted by a military tribunal in June 2011 on charges of financing and participating in terrorism to overthrow the government, as well as spying for a foreign country. During his detention, al-Khawaja was tortured, spent two months in solitary confinement, and was denied access to lawyers.

In April 2017, the authorities arrested Najah Yusuf, an activist and blogger, after she released a series of posts critical of the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix. Yusuf, in a written statement, said that National Security Agency interrogated her, subjecting her to physical abuse, sexual assault, and psychological torture. She said they forced her to sign a prepared confession. In June 2018, she was sentenced to three years in prison for her social media activity.

  1. Why are you escalating your attacks on free speech and silencing any critical discourse?

Bahrain has banned independent media from operating in the country, dissolved all opposition groups, and recently cracked down on critical online posts as well. In March 2018, authorities said they were tracking social media accounts that “departed from national norms, customs and traditions.” On May 30, 2019, the Bahraini Interior Ministry declared that it will prosecute people who follow “inciting accounts” or share their posts on Twitter. Twitter agreed with activists that such statements “post a significant risk to free expression and journalism.”

  1. Why aren’t you holding people responsible for torture to account?

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture in Bahrain’s detention facilities, especially during interrogations. Yet, the judiciary has repeatedly failed to hold the people responsible accountable. While the authorities have vigorously prosecuted people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, the authorities have prosecuted very few security personnel implicated in the serious and widespread abuses of detainees. The few prosecutions have almost exclusively involved low-ranking officers, and have – without exception – resulted in acquittals or disproportionately light sentences.

  1. Why do you arbitrarily strip citizens of their nationality as a punitive measure?

Since 2012, more than 900 people have been stripped of their citizenship for alleged terrorism offenses, often in mass trials marred by allegations of due process violations. Most of these people were left stateless.

On April 20, 2019, in a positive move, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa reinstated the citizenship of 551 people whose citizenship was stripped through a court order. However, more than 400 people remain stateless. Further, it is not clear on what basis the king decided which people’s citizenship should be reinstated.

  1. Why have you restored the death penalty?

Bahrain ended a de facto seven-year moratorium in January 2017, when it executed three Shia men for a bomb attack that resulted in the deaths of three police officers amid allegations that they had been tortured into confessing.

On May 6, 2019, the Bahrain Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence for two men convicted of terror offenses in a mass trial on January 31, 2018, that was marred by allegations of torture and due process violations. As of June 2019, 10 people were on death row who have exhausted all legal remedies.

Bahrain has not joined the many countries already committed to the United Nations General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions – a move by UN member countries toward abolishing the death penalty.


Ukraine: Investigate Journalist’s Killing

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

(Kyiv) – Ukrainian authorities should ensure an effective and impartial investigation into the killing of Vadym Komarov, an investigative journalist who died in Kyiv on June 20, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Komarov had severe head injuries from an attack by an unidentified assailant on May 4, 2019.

Komarov, 58, lived and worked in Cherkasy, 200 kilometers from Kyiv. He carried out hard-hitting investigations, including of corruption in the local municipal council. A police investigation into the May 4 attack confirmed that the unidentified man attacked Komarov in central Cherkasy and beat him on the head with a blunt object. Komarov was immediately hospitalized in critical condition with a severe brain injury. He underwent surgery following which he was kept in a medically induced coma. On June 20, Komarov died without regaining consciousness. Expand

Cherkasy-based journalist Vadym Komarov.

© 2019 Private

“Vadym Komarov was almost certainly fatally beaten because he reported on things some people do not want the public to know,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Ukrainian authorities need to call a halt to the attacks on the country’s journalists and make sure that they can do their jobs. The authorities should start by identifying Komarov’s attacker and bringing him to justice for this horrendous crime.”

The police investigation initially classified the incident as an attack causing intentional bodily harm but later requalified it as attempted murder. The investigators, who connect Komarov’s killing to his work as a journalist, have not yet identified the assailant. Komarov had previously been threatened and attacked for his reporting in 2016 and 2017.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s media representative, Harlem Désir, condemned the attack against Komarov and called for an investigation.

Media freedom has increasingly been under pressure in Ukraine. The media watchdog, Institute of Mass Information, has documented at least six cases of journalists beaten or injured in the first five months of 2019. It reported that 12 more received threats and 48 faced obstruction of their professional activities, including damaged equipment and restricted access. The murder of renowned journalist Pavel Sheremet, in 2016 in central Kyiv, remains unresolved. Attacks against activists and human rights defenders have also been on the rise since 2018.

“As the Ukrainian parliamentary elections approach in July, the country’s leadership needs to take a clear and public stance against violence and intimidation of journalists,” Denber said. “Acting effectively to secure justice for Komarov’s killing would send a strong a message that there will no impunity for attacks against journalists in Ukraine.”

Lebanon: Beirut Landfill Near Capacity

Human Rights Watch - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A beach where a heavy winds and strong waves washed ashore piles of garbage in Keserwan, north of Beirut, Lebanon, on 23 January 2018. 

© 2018 Marwan Naamani/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

(Beirut) – The Borj Hammoud landfill, one of two principal landfills serving Beirut, Lebanon, is set to reach capacity by the end of July 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The government had initially estimated that the landfill would be in operation until 2020.

The government has taken no steps to provide an alternative site for Beirut’s solid waste. Instead, a 13-page solid waste roadmap the Environment Ministry submitted to a ministerial committee on June 3 recommends expanding the Borj Hammoud landfill. Experts say that the landfill is affecting nearby residents’ health. Yet, the Environment Ministry has proposed its expansion without an Environmental Impact Assessment or consultation with affected communities, solid waste management experts have said.

“The government has to answer for why Lebanon’s waste management infrastructure has not been improved upon four years after the last waste crisis led to mounds of trash in the streets of Beirut,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government may be ready to bury its head in the sand but residents don’t want to end up buried in piles of trash.”

The Borj Hammoud landfill is currently emanating particularly strong odors, which an international consultant hired by the Environment Ministry determined was caused by manure and garbage in various states of decomposition that have been dumped there.

Nearby residents and public health experts fear that the odors signal the emission of toxic pollutants. According to air pollution experts, chronic exposure to these strong odors is linked to respiratory diseases, allergies, and the spread of bacteria. Further, experts state that leachate from the Borj Hammoud landfill is being dumped into the sea, polluting the water and making the sea in areas surrounding the landfill dangerous for swimming.

Both Lebanese legislation and international standards stipulate that an Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted before a project can begin and that measures must be taken to mitigate unavoidable adverse impacts.

The ministerial committee should convene immediately to discuss the roadmap and share its contents with experts and with the public for a broader consultation prior to finalization and submission to the cabinet, Human Rights Watch said.

The roadmap also incorporates core aspects of the Environment Ministry’s strategy on solid waste management, a ministry official who worked on it told Human Rights Watch. The ministry was tasked with establishing the strategy under Lebanon’s Law 80/2018 on integrated solid waste management, the country’s first law on solid waste management, passed on September 24, 2018, and it was supposed to do so by March. However, the ministry official said it is still being finalized in line with the comments from civil society and other stakeholders.

Human Rights Watch reviewed a draft summary of the strategy and on March 20 submitted feedback and recommendations for revisions to better respect residents’ rights. In particular, Human Rights Watch recommended strengthening plans for consultation with the community, creating more effective monitoring and enforcement systems, combatting discrimination in the current waste management practices, and raising public awareness about waste management issues.

The ministry official said that the roadmap also includes a list of decrees and decisions that should be passed so that Lebanon’s integrated waste management law can be carried out and maps of existing facilities and of 24 other proposed sites for new sanitary landfills, along with a draft law outlining fees and taxes that the central government and the municipalities can impose to cover their waste management costs. Without such a law, neither the ministry nor the municipalities will be able to fulfill their commitments as set out in the law and the strategy, Human Rights Watch said.

The proposed expansion of the Borj Hammoud landfill is broadly considered a stopgap measure until the broader solid waste strategy is implemented. The initial establishment of the landfill itself was a supposedly temporary solution to the 2015 trash crisis, until the government found a more sustainable solution.

The 2015 trash crisis was caused by closing the Naameh landfill after years of protests by local residents, without an alternate waste management plan. Without a disposal site, the waste collection company halted its operations, and garbage built up on the streets of Beirut.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch investigated the health problems arising from the increasing open burning of waste as a consequence of the breakdown of existing waste management plans. Human Rights Watch found that the government was failing in its obligations to protect people’s health through its mismanagement of waste. Residents of areas where waste was being dumped and burned reported health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, throat irritation, skin conditions, and asthma. Air pollution from open waste burning has been linked to heart disease and emphysema, and can expose people to carcinogenic compounds.

Experts fear that the proposed roadmap does not present sustainable solutions. An environmental expert has put forward a proposal that would avert the need to expand the Borj Hammoud landfill. It would cut the amount of waste in half and extend the life of existing landfills by requiring residents to sort their waste at home. This would give the ministry additional time to introduce more long-term solutions.

According to researchers at the American University of Beirut, only 10 to 12 percent of Lebanon’s waste cannot be composted or recycled. However, currently around 85 percent goes to open dumps or landfills. Sustainable waste management solution should focus on reducing the amount of waste send to landfills rather than expanding existing landfills, Human Rights Watch said.

“There is no excuse for continuing to delay the implementation of a rights-compliant waste management system,” Fakih said. “The ministerial committee should urgently make the tough decisions necessary to solve the problem rather than continuing to adopt temporary half-measures.” 

What Next for Australian ISIS Suspects?

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019


Rusafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad.

© 2018 Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo The Australian government is taking an important step by helping eight Australian children of suspects of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) return home from northeast Syria. The children were held for months without charge under horrific conditions in Syria’s al-Hol Camp. The youngest is two years old.

To ensure their release, the government sent diplomats into northeast Syria. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that, “children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents.” He’s right, and it’s time other governments put forward similar efforts to ensure protection for these children.

But questions remain about what to do with Australian adults in northeast Syria suspected of ISIS crimes. Some countries have reportedly been negotiating the transfer of their nationals to Iraq for prosecution, but Australia should resist this option. At least 11 French nationals have been transferred to Iraq and sentenced to death.

Human Rights Watch has monitored Iraqi trials of ISIS suspects and has serious concerns about due process, allegations of torture, use of the death penalty, and access to justice. Some trials of ISIS suspects in Baghdad have lasted just five minutes, often relying on coerced confessions, with no effective legal representation.

In November 2018, an Iraqi court convicted an Australian citizen, Ahmed Merhi, of ISIS membership and sentenced him to death. According to media reports, he told the court his confession was coerced and he was tortured by Iraqi officials, but the judge said a medical examination found no physical torture marks on his body. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi interrogators using a range of torture techniques, including beating suspects on the soles of their feet (falaka) and waterboarding, that would not leave lasting marks on the body. Two French citizens also tried in Iraq for affiliation with ISIS said they were tortured or coerced to confess.

The Australian government has strongly advocated for abolition of the death penalty, a position that should be applied in all cases, including terrorism offenses. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

Australia should not outsource management of its terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems, especially when the end result could be death. The government should fully investigate and fairly prosecute these individuals at home in trials that meet international standards. And it should also solicit victims’ participation in trials, which Iraq has not done, even as witnesses.

On Calling Things What They Are: Family Separation and Enforced Disappearance of Children

Opinio Juris - Monday, June 24, 2019
Recently, there’s been many a discussion in the Global North on the semiotics of law. What does it mean to say there was a genocide in Canada or that ICE runs concentration camps. In general, these debates follow a similar pattern: specific groups of people are outraged that scholars and experts would use the correct terminology to describe a policy...

Australia’s Terrifying ‘Watch Houses’

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019

Still from ABC News: Four Corners. May 16, 2019.

© 2019 ABC News

Pinned down, stripped naked, locked in a padded cell, and yelling continuously for help – that’s how an Indigenous boy with a cognitive disability spent three days in a police holding cell in Australia. The horrifying account – cruel and inhuman treatment that may amount to torture – reflects the terrifying reality for children picked up by the police in Australia.

Last month an investigation by ABC’s “Four Corners” program revealed that Queensland police were detaining children as young as 10 in police cells known as “watch houses” for weeks because of overcrowding in youth detention centers. One young girl was held in a cell with two alleged male sex offenders; in another case, a child was in isolation for 23 days.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged 10–17 were 23 times as likely than their non-Indigenous peers to be in detention. Rates are even higher for those with a disability. The 17-year-old Indigenous boy featured in the ABC report had a neurodevelopmental disability and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He was held naked in an isolation unit for three days, and has reportedly been held in a Brisbane maximum-security watch house meant for adults for nearly three months.

When he expressed thoughts of suicide, instead of providing him support, the authorities locked him up in a padded cell where multiple officers held him down, stripped him, and tried to force him into a suicide smock. When he resisted wearing the smock because it resembled a dress, which he felt ashamed to wear, the officers left him naked. He was later transferred to a cell with other children, with only a blanket to cover himself, for four days. No child should ever be treated this way.  

I have visited solitary confinement units across 14 Australian prisons and seen first-hand how scary, claustrophobic, and traumatic a padded cell can be. These rooms are cold, windowless, perpetually lit with no furniture, and monitored continuously by CCTV cameras.

While designed to prevent self-harm, the isolation all too frequently drives people with psychosocial or cognitive disabilities to attempt suicide or require emergency psychosocial support or hospitalization. While isolation is psychologically damaging for anyone, its effects on children with disabilities is devastating.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should order an end to the practice of solitary confinement for children and adults with disabilities in detention, and launch an independent inquiry into abuses in state facilities. The federal government should conduct a national inquiry into the use of solitary confinement of prisoners with disabilities.

Trump’s "Deal of the Century" for Palestine Is a Sideshow

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York, September 25, 2016. 


© 2016 Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

The Trump administration has organized an economic workshop this week in Bahrain as part of its Middle East peace plan, sometimes referred to as the ‘Deal of the Century’. The $50 billion, 10-year economic component of the plan aims to “empower” and “unlock the vast potential of the Palestinian people” – yet the 40-page document says nothing about why Palestinians are disempowered today and unable to unlock their potential. The result? A sideshow divorced from reality.

The plan fails to address the most significant barrier to economic development: Israeli abuses of Palestinians’ human rights. For example, it sets out to develop a “transportation corridor directly connecting the West Bank and Gaza through a major road and, potentially, a modern rail line.” But what good is a corridor when Israel imposes a travel ban on the two million Palestinians of Gaza that prevents nearly all of them from traveling – not only to the West Bank, but anywhere else? The problem is not a lack of roads, but Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on movement that have turned Gaza into an open-air prison. The heavy-handed tactics used by rival Palestinian authorities compounds the economic misery.

The plan speaks of the importance of private property rights without mentioning the Israeli authorities’ methodical theft of thousands of hectares of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank to build settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law, or their illegal exploitation of natural resources for their own benefit while imposing severe restrictions on how Palestinians can use those resources.

The World Bank estimated in 2013 that discriminatory Israeli restrictions in Area C of the West Bank – the area under exclusive Israeli security control – cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion per year. Lift those and over 10 years you get almost the same economic benefit of the US plan without investing a cent. With such restrictions in place, proposed projects are bound to fail, no matter how much money is thrown at them.

US officials say they will soon release the plan’s political component, but relegating rights to the political realm is precisely the problem. Opening Gaza and ending settlements, arbitrary restrictions on movements, and discrimination are not up for barter but abuses of core rights and legal principles that should be the starting point.

A rethink of the “peace process” is long overdue, but initiatives that are not centered on the dignity and respect of the rights of Palestinians will go nowhere.

Eritrea’s Human Rights Crisis Requires Ongoing Scrutiny

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

At the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council starting today, states will discuss whether to keep Eritrea in the spotlight. A new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea highlights why they should.

The report, which reviews Eritrea’s human rights situation since its historic July 2018 peace deal with Ethiopia, paints a worrying picture of ongoing abuse and repression.

There is no independent scrutiny in Eritrea. Despite sitting on the Human Rights Council, which should entail cooperation with UN rights mechanisms, Eritrea continues to deny access to the Special Rapporteur and other special procedures. It still forbids independent press and non-governmental organizations to operate.

An unknown number of citizens are jailed incommunicado, without trial or opportunity to appeal, some for decades. Detainees are held in awful conditions that fail to meet basic minimum detention standards, and risk ill-treatment and torture.

The report notes the government hasn’t yet taken any concrete steps to reform the country’s notorious open-ended and indefinite national service requirement, which all Eritreans are forced to conduct and in which abuses are rife.

Women and girls continue to risk sexual violence, notably during military training at the Sawa military camp, with little chance of redress.

Neighboring countries, which have previously placed Eritrea on the Council’s agenda, know firsthand that nothing has changed. Hundreds of Eritreans, many of them children escaping indefinite service, continue to flee across the border daily. They will continue to do so until Eritrea addresses the root causes that make life in the country untenable for so many.

While Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia are now enjoying improved relations with Eritrea and the mood may be more favorable, this is the wrong time to end scrutiny on the country. Eritrea misrepresented its election to the Human Rights Council as an endorsement by the international community; it would doubtless similarly seize on the termination of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate as “proof” that nothing needs change.

Any future shifts in the Council’s approach to Eritrea should respond to concrete improvements; until then, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be renewed, Eritrea should be pressed to allow access to the Special Rapporteur and other UN and African Commission mandate holders, and show concrete progress on the benchmarks identified in the new report.

Eritreans need to know the world is still paying attention to the dire reality they face at home.

UN Needs to Act Now to End Philippines Killings

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019

Activists hold a candle light vigil for victims of the extra judicial killings in the drug war of the government in front of a church in Manila on September 16, 2016.

© 2016 TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

If you live in an impoverished urban area in the Philippines today, you have good reason to fear that you or a family member could get caught up in President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “war on drugs.” And if you’re a politician, activist, or journalist outspoken about the drug war, be prepared for harassment and intimidation emanating from the highest levels of government.

The Philippines’ descent into an all-out human rights crisis, with thousands of extrajudicial executions and a crackdown on basic liberties, has generated an outcry, but no strong action, from United Nations members states. The killings started soon after Duterte took office in June 2016 and continue to this day. The police insist that those killed were drug dealers and users resisting arrest, but there have been countless credible reports of the police and their agents planting guns and drugs on victims’ bodies to justify their execution-style killings.

In March 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that an estimated 27,000 people had been killed, with no one brought to justice except for in one high-profile case. The police deny this figure but do admit to killing more than 6,600 people, only underscoring the need for serious investigations, which the government has unsurprisingly been unwilling to undertake.

The intrepid human rights defenders, politicians and journalists willing to report on or denounce the “drug war” have been harassed, threatened, and arrested. Many activists and human rights defenders have been killed in the context of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign.

The Philippines is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and thus is expected to uphold the highest standards of human rights. Instead, the government has refused to cooperate with UN rights mechanisms and even publicly smeared UN experts who condemn its violations. As early as June 2017, a large group of states expressed their concern in a joint statement at the Council. Two further statements followed – the last of which foreshadowed formal Council action if the situation did not improve.

And it hasn’t. The killings continue, as do flagrant violations of free expression. As bodies pile up in Manila and other urban areas, Duterte has promised that his “drug war” will only get harsher.

In early June, 11 UN human rights experts denounced the “staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings” and called on the Council to set up an independent inquiry.

UN member states stood by while thousands were killed, but it’s not too late for them to act to prevent the killing of thousands more. When the Council convenes in Geneva today, they have an opportunity to do just that – by urgently establishing an international investigation.

Cameroon: Video Shows Separatists Torturing Man

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019

Screenshot of the video, at 05:41. Writing on a school desk suggests that the video is filmed at the Government Technical High School in Bali, North-West region.

© 2019 Private

A video viewed by Human Rights Watch shows armed separatists torturing a man in an abandoned school in the North-West region of Cameroon in mid-May, 2019.

The video, verified by a dozen sources including five people who recognize the school and its location, corroborates previous accounts of torture and occupation of schools by armed separatists documented by Human Rights Watch.

“Once again material is circulating to support allegations that armed separatists are abusing civilians,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “Separatist leaders should immediately direct their fighters and followers to halt attacks, including torture and other abuse aimed at civilians.”

The footage shows at least four separatist fighters threatening and torturing the man, who is wearing only his underwear, forcing him to sit on burning pieces of paper and beating him with sticks and machetes.

An analysis of the dialogue in the video reveals that the victim is a driver from the village of Bali who had been transporting products for Brasseries du Cameroon, a state-owned company the separatists oppose. They have banned the marketing, purchase, and transport of its drink products within the areas they control.

Separatists can be heard accusing the driver of selling Brasseries’ products in the Bali and Batibo parts of the North-West region. The victim, who has yet to be identified, begs his torturers to stop, but they instead threaten to “wash him with gasoline,” implying they will kill him.

The attackers and the victim speak Mungaka, a language common among communities in Bali. The video appears to have been filmed at the Government Technical High School in Bali, as the writing on a school desk shows at the 05:41 mark in the video. Five people from Bali who know the school well told Human Rights Watch that this is the school in the video.

They also said separatists hold and abuse hostages there. The school, which had a capacity of over 800 students, has been closed since mid-2017 due to violence and the separatists’ boycott of education to make the area ungovernable and to signal that the situation in the Anglophone regions is untenable.

The separatists are most likely from a group that controls Bali, whose leader was known as General Koraman. In March, a video surfaced of Koraman declaring that he and his men would intercept vehicles from the Brasseries du Cameroon. Sources suggest that the video was filmed in the first half of May. Reliable reports indicate that Koraman was killed on June 1.  Expand

Screenshot of the video showing the victim being forced to sit on burning pieces of paper.

© 2019 Private

Since late 2016, the Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been gripped by deadly violence, claiming the lives of over 1,800 people and forcing half a million to flee their homes. Government forces have killed scores of civilians, torched hundreds of homes, and used torture and incommunicado detention against people suspected of belonging to separatist groups, with near-total impunity. Armed separatists have killed hundreds of members of security forces and assaulted and kidnapped hundreds of people during their increasing attacks and growing calls for secession of the North-West and South-West regions.

Since the crisis escalated, armed separatists have used schools as bases, deploying fighters and weapons and holding people hostage in and near them. Separatists have disrupted normal life in the areas they control by enforcing strikes, consistently targeting school buildings, and threatening education officials and students with violence if they did not comply with separatist demands to boycott schools.

In one case, armed separatists kidnapped two children, ages 16 and 17, from their home in Nkwen, Bamenda, North-West region in the morning of June 8. Their father told Human Rights Watch that the separatists accused the children of studying for the General Certificate Examination: “They arrived with motorbikes, they entered the house with guns and threatened everyone. They said my kids were defying the ban on education. Then, they took them away. They called asking for a ransom. I don’t know how I will find the money. I am scared my girl might be raped.” The children were beaten and released three days later, following a ransom payment.

Armed separatists have also tortured dozens of people. In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of torture by armed separatists against workers of the Cameroon Development Corporation, who work in the company’s banana plantations near Tiko, South-West region. The workers have been beaten or maimed because they refused to participate in a general strike called by the separatists.

On June 18, separatists kidnapped at least 40 people, including women and children, travelling in a four-vehicle convoy in Bafut, North-West region. Human Rights Watch spoke with two people who escaped. A 37-year-old man from Wum said that about 20 armed separatists ambushed the vehicles: “They came out of the woods, fired in the air, and stopped the cars. They were shouting ‘Amba! Amba!’ (short for “Amba Boys,” how many of the separatists are known and how they refer to themselves) and were threatening to shoot the women.” The separatists beat and robbed the people, then released them on June 19.

Cameroon’s international partners and the UN Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on separatist leaders who bear responsibility for abuses, including torture and occupation of schools, Human Rights Watch said.

The video of the torture in Bali emerged four weeks before a United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa briefed the UN Security Council on June 4. Nine human rights organizations urged the Security Council to focus on the humanitarian and human rights situation in the Anglophone regions.

“The separatists should know the world is paying attention and those responsible for torture will face the consequences,” Mudge said. “Armed separatists should let children return to their studies and stop using the schools to carry out their campaign.”

Australia: Protect Human Rights in Foreign Policy

Human Rights Watch - Monday, June 24, 2019


Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. 

© 2018 Frank Franklin II/ AP Photo (Sydney) – The Australian government should make the protection of human rights a central focus of its foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the recently reappointed Foreign Minister Marise Payne that was released today.

In a February 2019 speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Payne said, “Democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom and the right to all to dignity and respect – these values have guided Australians for generations. And these are the values which Australia has sought to promote as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.”

“Australia should treat its membership in the UN Human Rights Council as both an opportunity and responsibility to be a leader in defending human rights abroad and at home,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Promoting human rights values includes publicly raising rights issues with foreign leaders, not just making generic statements of concern in Geneva.”

Human Rights Watch urged the foreign minister to strengthen Australia’s voice at the UN Human Rights Council by providing leadership on assessing the human rights situation in specific countries. In particular, Australia should partner with like-minded countries to develop resolutions to address serious violations in countries that have evaded the council’s scrutiny such as China, the Philippines, Bahrain, and Egypt. The 41st session of the Human Rights Council commences today in Geneva.

The Australian government often favors a “quiet diplomacy” approach in raising human rights concerns with other countries. Human Rights Watch urged the foreign minister to ensure that private advocacy is paired with public pressure to ensure that private discussions are not used to shield violators from international scrutiny.

The Australian government should consider enacting a law or regulation similar to the US Global Magnitsky Act, to impose targeted sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes against individuals with records of human rights abuse. The United Kingdom and Canada have passed similar measures. The government should also consider a stronger system for human rights vetting of foreign armed forces receiving Australian training.

“Imposing targeted sanctions against human rights abusers would be a powerful deterrent to countries in the region to consider repercussions from the Australian government,” Pearson said. “Systematic vetting would also help deter foreign security forces from committing human rights violations by imposing concrete consequences for those abuses.”

Human Rights Watch urged the government to support the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental pledge by countries to protect students, teachers, schools and universities from attack during times of war. So far 91 countries have endorsed the declaration, including Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but not Australia.

Human Rights Watch said that Australia’s credibility as a human rights leader in the region has been seriously damaged by its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, especially those who are offshore. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call to dismantle offshore processing once and for all.

Human Rights Watch included a memo with the letter, outlining human rights concerns in several countries in Asia and the Middle East in which sustained pressure and engagement from Australia could make a significant difference in promoting respect for human rights. The countries in Asia are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. The counties in the Middle East are Bahrain, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia including its role in Yemen, and Syria.

The Australian government should consider establishing an advisory group on human rights that meets biannually and provides strategic advice, especially on crisis situations, Human Rights Watch said.

“Australia’s leadership on human rights will be strongest when the government is seen as walking the talk that it gives overseas, and that means also addressing the limitations of its own human rights record,” Pearson said.

Events and Announcements: June 23, 2019

Opinio Juris - Sunday, June 23, 2019
Featured Announcement SOAS Executive Course in Public International Law The School of Law at SOAS, University of London, is pleased to announce that its Executive Course in Public International Law, 9-13 September 2019, is now open for applications. Taught by some of the leading international lawyers in the UK, the short course is for professionals, but open to anyone interested in...