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Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:25:54 +0000


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Support for Rights Grows at Bonn Climate Talks

When it was announced that the government of Fiji would chair this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, expectations were high. As a small island, Fiji sees climate change as an existential threat.

Indigenous peoples demand their rights at climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 2016,

© 2016 Katharina Rall / Human Rights Watch

The talks wrapped up on Friday, and during the last two weeks, advocates for gender equality and indigenous peoples made their voices heard and won hard-fought battles to better respect their rights. Notably, governments agreed to create a platform to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations climate responses, and adopted a Gender Action Plan that aims to better integrate gender equality in climate change policies.

There was also increased attention given to environmental rights defenders and indigenous people who have been killed, attacked, and threatened for their activism. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that governments often fail to conduct serious and timely investigations.

Just when the talks were nearing their end, human rights were pushed to the fore when Fijian prime minister and president of the climate talks, Frank Bainimarama, convened a high-level event about the importance of rights in climate negotiations. Why was this such a big deal? Because never before has any government presiding over the talks hosted an official event on human rights.

Bainimarama has also long been among those who have been silent on human rights issues. But on Thursday, he announced that integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement was an important element of Fiji’s presidency, which will continue through the coming year. Costa Rica’s environment minister, Edgar Gutiérrez-Espelata, also proposed concrete ways to integrate rights into the current negotiations about the so-called Paris Rulebook. For example, governments could reference human rights obligations in climate change action plans and climate negotiators could agree to build capacity among states on promoting human rights in climate action.

Of course, such commitments are worth little unless governments are willing to turn rhetoric into reality. If they are serious about fighting climate change, governments should also do more to integrate the protection of human rights in climate policies, while defending the rights of people working to protect the environment.


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Turkey: Arrest of Civil Society Leader Arbitrary, Punitive

Osman Kavala.

© 2017 Anadolu Kültür

(Istanbul) – An Istanbul court decision on November 1, 2017, to imprison a businessman and civic leader is an example of the politicized and arbitrary nature of Turkey’s justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.

Osman Kavala is the head of the Kavala group of companies, inherited from his father, and the founder of the nonprofit cultural organization Anadolu Kültür. He is well-known for his active engagement with the community and involvement in many initiatives in support of cultural dialogue, peace and reconciliation, and the arts. He faces a criminal investigation on alleged suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order in connection with widespread anti-government protests in 2013 that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the 2016 attempted coup, charges that carry a penalty of life in prison without parole.

“The case against Osman Kavala is a disgraceful example of how politicized court decisions in Turkey follow a calculated smear campaign in pro-government media,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We have seen a pattern of prosecutors producing outlandish allegations with no evidence and courts complying, demonstrating how Turkey’s justice system acts as a handmaiden to politicians.”

The case against Kavala is also another dramatic setback for all groups in Turkey that, like Kavala, work on initiatives to strengthen human rights and the rule of law and to promote pluralism and tolerance. It comes days after 10 human rights defenders who had been held for more than three months were released on bail. They are being prosecuted for aiding terrorist organizations and, like Kavala, had been subjected to an intense smear campaign accusing them of coup plotting, fomenting chaos in Turkey, and links to outlawed armed groups.

The court decision to keep Kavala in custody relies on the prosecutor’s allegations that he “is publicly known as being a director and organizer of the actions known as the Gezi events,” and that he was in “unnaturally intense contact with [US-Turkish academic] Henri Jak Barkey and foreigners who were among the organizers of the [July 15, 2016] coup attempt.” Neither allegation has been supported with any credible evidence. The court’s decision repeats similar reports about Kavala in the media and earlier smear campaigns against him.

Police detained Kavala on October 18, after a report on a website and other writings that attempted to discredit both his business activities and his wide-ranging civic initiatives and connections with various nongovernmental organizations. Once he had been detained, several newspapers close to the government ran headlines accusing him of financing terrorism and coup plotting, holding him responsible for the Gezi protests in Istanbul and suggesting he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt. These accusations apparently also form the basis of the prosecutor’s investigation, which continues.

“Days after release of the Istanbul 10 human rights defenders, the arrest of Osman Kavala shows that the government is intent on continuing the crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society,” Williamson said. “The Kavala case demonstrates that Turkey’s justice system has become an instrument of deep injustice.” 


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Saudi Arabia: Official Hate Speech Targets Minorities

Some Saudi state clerics and institutions incite hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority. 

(Beirut) – Some Saudi state clerics and institutions incite hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 62-page report, “‘They Are Not Our Brothers’: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials,” documents that Saudi Arabia has permitted government-appointed religious scholars and clerics to refer to religious minorities in derogatory terms or demonize them in official documents and religious rulings that influence government decision-making. In recent years, government clerics and others have used the internet and social media to demonize and incite hatred against Shia Muslims and others who do not conform to their views.

“Saudi Arabia has relentlessly promoted a reform narrative in recent years, yet it allows government-affiliated clerics and textbooks to openly demonize religious minorities such as Shia,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This hate speech prolongs the systematic discrimination against the Shia minority and – at its worst – is employed by violent groups who attack them.”

Human Rights Watch found that the incitement, along with anti-Shia bias in the criminal justice system and the Education Ministry’s religion curriculum, is instrumental in enforcing discrimination against Saudi Shia citizens. Human Rights Watch recently documented derogatory references to other religious affiliations, including Judaism, Christianity, and Sufi Islam in the country’s religious education curriculum.

Government clerics, all of whom are Sunni, often refer to Shia as rafidha or rawafidh (rejectionists) and stigmatize their beliefs and practices. They have also condemned mixing and intermarriage. One member of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the country’s highest religious body, responded in a public meeting to a question about Shia Muslims by stating that “they are not our brothers ... rather they are brothers of Satan…”.

Such hate speech may have fatal consequences when armed groups such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or Al-Qaeda use it to justify targeting Shia civilians. Since mid-2015, ISIS has attacked six Shia mosques and religious buildings in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and Najran, killing more than 40 people. ISIS news releases claiming these attacks stated that the attackers were targeting “edifices of shirk,”(polytheism), and rafidha, terms used in Saudi religious education textbooks to target Shia.

Saudi Arabia’s former grand mufti, Abdulaziz Bin Baz, who died in 1999, condemned Shia in numerous religious rulings. Bin Baz’s body of fatwas and writings remain publicly available on the website of Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas.

Some clerics use language that suggests Shia are part of a conspiracy against the state, a domestic fifth column for Iran, and disloyal by nature. The government also allows other clerics with enormous social media followings – some in the millions – and media outlets to stigmatize Shia with impunity.

Anti-Shia bias extends to the Saudi judicial system, which is controlled by the religious establishment and often subjects Shia to discriminatory treatment or arbitrarily criminalizes Shia religious practices. In 2015, for example, a Saudi court sentenced a Shia citizen to two months in jail and 60 lashes for hosting private Shia group prayers in his father’s home. In 2014, a Saudi Arabia court convicted a Sunni man of “sitting with Shia.”

The Saudi Ministry of Education religion curriculum al-tawhid, or (monotheism) which is taught at the primary, middle, and secondary education levels, uses veiled language to stigmatize Shia religious practices as shirk or ghulah (exaggeration). Saudi religious education textbooks direct these critiques to the Shia and Sufi practice of visiting graves and religious shrines and tawassul (intercession), to call on the prophet or his family members as intermediaries to God. The textbooks state that these practices, which both Sunni and Shia citizens understand as Shia, are grounds for removal from Islam, punished by being sent to hell for eternity.

International human rights law requires governments to prohibit “[a]ny advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” Implementation of this prohibition has been uneven and sometimes used as a pretext to restrict lawful speech or target minority groups. Any steps to counter hate speech should be carried out within overall guarantees of freedom of expression.

To address this problem, experts in recent years have proposed a test to establish whether any particular speech can be lawfully limited. Under this formula, the speech Human Rights Watch documented by Saudi religious scholars sometimes rises to the level of hate speech or incitement to hatred or discrimination. Other statements don’t cross that threshold, but authorities should publicly repudiate and counteract it. Given the influence and reach of these scholars, their statements advance a system of discrimination against Shia citizens.

Saudi authorities should order an immediate halt to hate speech by state-affiliated clerics and government agencies.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has repeatedly classified Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” – its harshest designation for countries that violate religious freedom. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act allows the president to issue a waiver if it would “further the purposes” of the act or if “the important national interest of the United States requires the exercise of such waiver authority.” US presidents have issued such waivers for Saudi Arabia since 2006.

The US government should rescind the waiver and work with Saudi authorities to end incitement to hatred or discrimination against Shia and Sufi citizens, as well as other religions. The US should also press for removal of all criticism and stigmatization of Shia and Sufi religious practices, as well as practices of other religions, from the Saudi religion education curriculum.

“Despite Saudi Arabia’s poor record on religious freedom, the US has shielded Saudi Arabia from possible sanctions under US law,” Whitson said. “The US government should apply its own laws to hold its Saudi ally accountable.”


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Lebanon: Deaths, Alleged Torture of Syrians in Army Custody

(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Whose Bastille Day?

President Emmanuel Macron is hosting President Donald Trump for Bastille Day to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I. The invitation is highly symbolic and ironic: the NATO- and EU-bashing Trump presiding over a military parade that celebrates the end of the splendid isolation that kept the United States out of the allied war effort through April 6, 1917, when Congress declared war on Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump confer at the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/John MacDougall/Pool

The nativist and isolationist agenda Trump preaches for the United States is squarely at odds with the legacy that will be commemorated on the Champs-Elysées. Trump’s views dismiss  historic allies and tarnish values and principles that are the foundation of the multilateral order first ushered in by the victorious allies at the end of World War I. His agenda  is also at odds with the values and principles that will be at the heart of the joint cabinet meeting Macron will be hosting alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel the eve of Bastille Day to mark the heightened entente between France and Germany on key issues from climate change to human rights to the future of the EU and the United Nations. On all of these fronts, as Merkel hinted in a veiled reference to Trump, “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over.”

Whereas Macron will be on comfortable ground when meeting Merkel, the encounter with Trump is more risk-laden. It also comes on the heels of a lack-luster-yet-protest-mired G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last week where, according to Merkel, “differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated.” Macron already navigated a similarly risky encounter with President Vladimir Putin quite skilfully, so here’s to him holding his ground and faithfully promoting the principles and values he has often defended in discourse if not yet in practice.

In a lofty and lengthy speech before an extraordinary joint session of congress in Versailles on July 3, Macron laid down the guiding principles for his administration. The first real foreign test since his attachment to these principles, absent other allies, will be his upcoming meeting with Trump. Regarding climate change and our common universal heritage, he is likely to insist on the “need to defend the planet from climate change” as he already did when Trump unsigned the Paris Climate Agreement. But, will Macron speak more generally of “the vice that poisons our public debate: the denial of reality” he warned against in Versailles, and take issue with Trump for propagating and feeding off the vice?

Regarding refugees, will Macron speak of them again “not as a burden but a chance” and advocate “fair, humane treatment and protection” to “welcome political refugees at risk,” including in the United States? Regarding multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, will he insist that “the multilateral order is without doubt more necessary today than ever before” and call on the United States to cease any ongoing efforts to weaken it? Regarding human rights, will he remain true to his call for the “concrete, tangible and visible application of the principles that guide us: liberty, equality, fraternity”?

Will he make clear to Trump that implementation of his administration’s draconian and expansionist “Global Gag Rule” against abortion will have a hugely negative impact on AIDS relief, efforts to stem the spread of infectious disease, and global health?

In short, will Trump be appeased or faced with the “resistance and coherence” that Macron promised would be his “only north”? Will Macron have the courage and spine to break through the nativist and isolationist walls that Trump seeks to create, under the flimsy guise of greater safety and security for the United States? It is not the ceremonial saber-rattling of the military parade but the face-to-face discussion between Macron and Trump that will determine whose Bastille Day it turns out to be.


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
France is addicted to the state of emergency. Put an end to it, Mr. President

“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) members secure a street as they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
What Do the UK Party Manifestos Say About Human Rights?

Human rights have so far barely featured in the British election campaign. Yet in their manifestos theConservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats as well as the Scottish National Party have set out distinctive positions on a range of rights issues relating to both domestic and foreign policy.  These policies warrant public attention and political debate. To help encourage this, we highlight the parties’ commitments in seven key areas, offer some brief context, and make links to other relevant material. 

 


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
'Every Year, I Give Birth': Why War is Driving a Contraception Crisis in Sudan

Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory.

She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children.

Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception.

 In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies.

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people.

Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed. 

This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception.

It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed.

Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels have still not agreed to an offer by the US to provide aid via Khartoum, and have instead called for yet more negotiations. 

Although aid saves lives, and warring parties in conflict have an obligation to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, preventing it from reaching people is rarely punished. The UN security council briefly threatened punitive action against Sudan in 2012, but never acted. The health crisis unfolding in the Nuba mountains should prompt a change of tack. The UN security council, the African Union and the EU should investigate and consider travel bans and asset freezes on rebel and government leaders found to have deliberately blocked such deliveries. 

International aid is often a lifeline to civilians trapped in conflict. And it would help women like Sebila to access contraception, avoid risky childbirth, and feed their children.


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
Military Might Alone Won’t Pull Mali From Quagmire

French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters
“The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations.

The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.


01/01/1970 01:00 AM
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Police fire tear gas toward opposition supporters during clashes while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017.

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