Human Rights Watch – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 21 Sep 2021 05:20:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tunisia: President’s Repressive Policies Abrogate Rights: Dozens Placed Under Arbitrary House Arrest (HRW) Sat, 18 Sep 2021 04:06:51 +0000 Human Rights Watch (Tunis) – Arbitrary and politically motivated acts of repression have proliferated in Tunisia since July 25, 2021, when President Kais Saied suspended parliament, Human Rights Watch said today. He also lifted parliamentary immunity, dismissed the head of government, and took control of the office of the public prosecutor.

Three parliament members have been imprisoned for speech offenses, and at least 50 Tunisians have been placed under arbitrary house arrests, including former officials, a judge, and three lawmakers. Dozens of other Tunisians have faced arbitrary travel bans, violating their freedom of movement. On August 23, Said extended the extraordinary powers he had accorded himself indefinitely. He has neither reopened parliament nor appointed a new head of government and has claimed that these measures would not imperil Tunisians’ human rights.

“President Saied’s reassurances on human rights sound hollow when he concentrates power in his own hands, parliamentarians and other Tunisians suddenly start facing arbitrary restrictions on their freedom, and some are packed off to prison,” said Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Since Saied’s announcement, civilian and military prosecutors announced investigations against at least 10 parliament members, four of whom are detained. Imad Al-Ghabri, spokesperson of the Tunis Administrative Court, said on September 9 that those under house arrest, by order of the interim interior minister Saied appointed, also include government officials and former officials, parliamentarians, judges, businessmen, and advisers to previous governments. Al-Ghabri said that as of September 9, 10 had appealed their house arrests before the Tunis Administrative Court.

Stripping lawmakers of their immunity also paved the way for authorities to execute a two-month prison term imposed by a military court for defamation in 2018 against Yassine Ayari, a parliament member, who is in Mornaguia prison. Ayari is also under investigation by the military prosecution for “defaming the army.” The authorities should immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said, since he is being punished for exercising his speech rights.

Two other parliament members have been detained for over one month on defamation charges: Jdedi Sboui, arrested by authorities on August 5 based on complaints by the Governor of Zeghouan who accused him of defamation and corruption, and Faycel Tebini on August 2 under an October 2019 warrant for defamation, calumny, and inciting disobedience against the public prosecutor of the First Instance Court in Jendouba in Facebook posts and videos. Five others on charges of allegedly insulting or attacking a police officer at Tunis airport during an altercation and one was detained for allegedly breaking into a Radio Tunis air station.

At least 30 plainclothes officers on July 30, arrestedAyari, parliament member from the Hope and Work political movement, at his home, his lawyer, Melek Sayahi, told Human Rights Watch. He said that Ayari’s lawyers were only able to visit Ayari in Mornaguia prison in Tunis 15 days later.

Ayari’s 2018 sentence was imposed by a military court even though he is a civilian. In August, a military prosecutor brought new charges under article 91 of the Code of Military Justice, for Facebook posts from July 26, 27, and 28, 2021, for “defaming the army.” Sayahi said that Ayari started a hunger strike on September 8 to protest his detention. The prosecution of a civilian before a military tribunal violates the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two prominent people who said they did not know the reason for their house arrest and had not been given any official documents.

Chawki Tabib, lawyer and a former head of the Tunisian National Anti-Corruption Authority, a state body, said that police officers from the el-Nasr district station in Tunis placed him under house arrest on August 20, without disclosing the reason and saying said it would last until the end of the state of emergency, which expires on January 19, 2022.

In response to his request for a formal order, he said, one officer “pulled out his phone and showed me what he said is a digital version of the decision. When I asked to be provided with the actual document, he said that he will send it. But weeks later, I still do not have it.”

“I don’t know if there’s a [judicial] complaint against me and if I face any legal cases,” he said. I haven’t been summoned for interrogation on anything, and I haven’t seen a judge about any case yet.”

The authorities have limited Tabib’s movements to walking in his neighborhood. He said they required him to notify them of doctors’ appointments 24 hours in advance and escorted him during a visit: “The scene was very shameful. They treated me as if I was Bin Laden himself.”

Tabib appealed the decision on August 26 at an administrative court and is awaiting the ruling.

Officers placed Zouheir Makhlouf, an independent member of parliament, under house arrest while he was visiting his mother’s house on August 16, without giving him a reason. Makhlouf told Human Rights Watch, “I was taken to the Maamoura police station, where an officer asked me to sign a document, but he would not let me read it. The officer cited Saied’s July 25 announcement of the special measures and the appointment of an acting minister of interior.”

Makhlouf said he was taken to a police station in the city of Nabeul, “and there I signed a police report about the decision to place me under house arrest. It said I should not leave my mother’s house or violate in any way the house arrest order. I asked for a copy of the police report and was told that I needed to file a request at an administrative court, which I did on August 25. They search everyone who comes to visit me, including my sister and my wife.”

Makhlouf said that he was not told personally the reason for this arrest. His lawyer told him that a pending case related to charges of sexual harassment from 2019 were not the reason. Makhlouf believes the reason is “posts on Facebook and television interviews where I criticized what Saied did, and my characterization of his move as a ‘grave constitutional violation.’”

Makhlouf expects to remain under house arrest until the state of emergency ends. “I now live in a prison,” he said.

Article 80 of the 2014 constitution that President Saied used on July 25 to justify his extraordinary powers authorizes the president to take “any measures necessitated” in case of an “imminent threat jeopardizing the nation, and the country’s security and independence.” The president suspended parliament even though article 80 requires parliament to be in a state of “continuous session throughout such a period” and prohibits the president from “dissolving” it.

The constitutional court established by the 2014 constitution, which has powers to curb a president’s abuse of power, does not exist due to ongoing disagreements on its composition. Article 80 authorizes the court to review extensions beyond 30 days of exceptional powers to determine if the conditions that were invoked to justify them still exist.

The day before President Saied seized extraordinary powers invoking article 80 of the constitution, he extended until January 19, 2022, the state of emergency that has been repeatedly renewed since its declaration in 2015 by former president Beji Caid-Essebsi. The emergency decree gives the executive authority wide-ranging powers including prohibiting strikes, demonstrations, and public gatherings, ordering house arrests, and taking control of media.

Under international standards, house arrests are considered a form of detention and warrant certain safeguards to be considered lawful, even during a state of emergency. Those include ensuring that the period of house arrest is not indefinite, delivering a written copy of the decision to the affected person, ensuring that those subject to such measures can meaningfully challenge them before an impartial body, and ensuring regular judicial review. Each renewal of a detention order should be subject to approval by a court.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has stated that defamation should be treated as a civil, not a criminal, issue and that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.”

Via Human Rights Watch


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Turkey must release Political Prisoners: European Court of Human Rights Tue, 14 Sep 2021 04:06:54 +0000

Council of Europe Committee Should Trigger Infringement Proceedings

Human Rights Watch (Istanbul) – The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers should trigger infringement proceedings against Turkey at its September 14-16, 2021 meeting for its failure to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) judgment ordering the release of the jailed human rights defender Osman Kavala, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Litigation Support Project said today. The three nongovernmental organizations made the recommendation in a submission to the committee providing a full update on the latest developments in the ongoing legal proceedings against Kavala.

The committee’s September meeting will also examine the state of implementation of another leading ECtHR judgment ordering the immediate release of the Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, which the Turkish government continues to defy. The three organizations, along with Article 19 and the International Federation for Human Rights, have also made a submission to the Committee of Ministers on developments in the Demirtaş case, calling on the committee to urge the Turkish government to ensure his immediate release.

“In the face of Turkey’s persistent and flagrant defiance of its obligation to implement the Kavala judgment, the Committee of Ministers should trigger infringement proceedings against Turkey,” said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The committee should also call for the immediate release of Demirtaş with a commitment to escalating measures if it does not happen.”

The ECtHR ruled on December 10, 2019, that by holding Kavala in pretrial detention since November 2017 and prosecuting him on the basis of his human rights activities, the Turkish authorities had “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as a human rights defender.”

Similarly, the ECtHR ruled on December 22, 2020, that by holding Demirtaş in pretrial detention since November 2016 and prosecuting him for activities and speeches protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Turkish authorities sought to prevent him from carrying out his political activities. The court said that this deprived voters of their elected representative, and resulted in “stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate: the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”

In both cases, the court found that by using detention for political ends, Turkey had violated Kavala’s and Demirtaş’s rights, including the right to liberty, and had abused the discretion given to governments to impose legitimate limitations on rights (articles 5 and 18 of the ECHR respectively). The court took the rare step of ordering both men’s immediate release.

Both judgments are legally binding, yet the Turkish authorities have snubbed the Strasbourg court and ignored the Committee of Ministers’ decisions calling for the men’s release. The Turkish courts and prosecutors have engaged in a series of tactics to circumvent the authority of the ECtHR and the Council of Europe. They have issued repeated sham release orders, initiated multiple criminal proceedings on the same facts, repeatedly issued detention decisions while adopting unwarranted procedural decisions to prolong detention and baseless prosecutions, and expedited a conviction to prevent release from detention.

“The Committee of Ministers should take note of the Turkish authorities’ repeated tactics in the Kavala and Demirtaş cases aimed at ensuring the prolongation of their unlawful detention and circumventing the authority of the European Court,” said Ayşe Bingöl Demir of the Turkey Litigation Support Project. “The committee should pursue robust measures against Turkey to press for full implementation of the judgments and end a cycle of malpractice which flagrantly violates Turkey’s obligations under the European Convention.”

The Committee of Ministers has the authority to take infringement proceedings against a Council of Europe member state that refuses to carry out European Court judgments. It was used for the first time in 2017 when the government of Azerbaijan repeatedly refused to secure the unconditional release of a wrongfully jailed opposition politician, Ilgar Mammadov.

Infringement proceedings are provided for under article 46/4 of the ECHR. Two-thirds of the Committee of Ministers need to vote to start infringement proceedings. Once the process is triggered, the case reverts to the ECtHR for a further opinion on whether the state has met its obligations to comply with the judgment. If the ECtHR confirms that Turkey has failed to carry out the ruling, the Committee of Ministers may then take additional measures, including ultimately suspending Turkey’s voting rights or membership of the Council of Europe.

Via Human Rights Watch


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Afghanistan: Taliban Severely Beat Journalists: New Restrictions Indicate Crackdown on Free Speech (HRW) Thu, 09 Sep 2021 04:08:55 +0000 Human Rights Watch | -(New York) – Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have been detaining and assaulting journalists and imposing new restrictions on media work, Human Rights Watch said today. The Taliban should call a halt to the assaults, drop the restrictions, and ensure that Taliban members responsible for abuses against protesters and journalists are appropriately punished.

On September 7, 2021, Taliban security forces detained Taqi Daryabi and Nemat Naqdi, journalists from the Kabul-based media outlet Etilaat-e Roz. The reporters had been covering protests by women in Kabul demanding an end to Taliban violations of the rights of women and girls. Etilaat-e Roz reported that Taliban authorities took the two men to a police station in Kabul, placed them in separate cells, and severely beat them with cables. Both men were released on September 8 and received medical care at a hospital for injuries to their backs and faces.

Journalists beaten while covering protests in Kabul, Sept. 7; Copyright Private

“Taliban authorities claimed that they would allow the media to function so long as they ‘respected Islamic values,’ but they are increasingly preventing journalists from reporting on demonstrations,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Taliban need to ensure that all journalists are able to carry out their work without abusive restrictions or fear of retribution.”

The Taliban authorities also detained a Tolonews photojournalist, Wahid Ahmadi, on September 7, and released him the same day. They confiscated his camera and prevented other journalists from filming the protest.

Since early September, Afghan women and girls in several cities have held protests against Taliban’s violations of women and girls’ rights, including denial of their right to education and access to employment. Women have spearheaded these protests, but increasingly men have joined them. On September 7, hundreds of protesters – both women and men – marched through Kabul chanting slogans critical of the Taliban.

Taliban security forces have broken up most of these recent demonstrations by beating protesters, confiscating and damaging cameras, and threatening reporters. On September 7 the Taliban announced that protests, in general, are illegal unless approved ahead of time. Journalists covering some protests have said that Taliban officials have told them that reporting on protests is also now illegal.

Taliban commanders and fighters have long engaged in a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence against members of the media, and have been responsible for targeted killings of journalists.

International human rights law prohibits arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech and expression, including by detaining journalists and banning media outlets, and to peaceful assembly.

“Taliban authorities are obligated under international law to respect and uphold everyone’s right to peaceful protests and to respect the rights of women and girls,” Gossman said. “Concerned governments should press the Taliban to protect free expression and peaceful assembly.”

Via Human Rights Watch

‘The Taliban Are Looking for Me:’ Many Unable to Flee Afghanistan Face Grave Risks Sat, 28 Aug 2021 04:08:11 +0000 Patricia Gossman | Associate Asia Director | –

Human Rights Watch – Thursday’s bombing at Kabul’s international airport has drastically curtailed evacuation flights for at-risk Afghans. The effort was already winding down, after getting out some human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, journalists, interpreters, and others, but leaving many more behind to face growing threats.

In recent weeks, a global network of organizations, military veterans, and journalists – sometimes under the hashtag #DigitalDunkirk – helped get Afghans on government evacuation lists. Others assisted on the ground to get people through the airport chaos. But there were too many to help in the short time available and barriers Afghans faced often made these efforts impossible.

Many of those most committed to creating a better society, empowering women, and trying to hold the government to account are now in hiding, facing grave dangers. Journalists have reported that Taliban fighters have come looking for them in their homes. A woman who was a reporter for a US-funded media organization texted me: “My situation is really bad. The apartment where my family lives, every night the Taliban come and ask questions about me and where I am.” Finally, her mother told them that she had died, just to stop the Taliban from coming again. But she remains terrified the Taliban will punish her family.

A journalist with a foreign-supported media outlet texted me about the Taliban’s relentless search for him: “The Taliban come to my house to ask my family where I am. I am hiding [but] every second or third day they come saying that they are from intelligence service” of the Taliban. “Can’t someone help me?”

A journalist who was outspoken about women’s rights texted me: “Let me tell you—I have struggled against the Taliban for the last twenty years, they are looking for me. Remember this: an oppressed journalist committed to democracy could not be saved.”

The Taliban, now in power, are obligated to respect the rights of all Afghans, including the right to safely leave one’s country. But while the Taliban leadership has made promises to protect members of civil society, their fighters relentlessly hunt people down and subject them to an uncertain fate.

The countries who have supported these activists have a responsibility to evacuate them as long as that is possible, and take other feasible measures to bring them and their families to safety after the evacuation has ended.

Via Human Rights Watch


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UN Rights Body Needs to Investigate Grave Taliban Abuses in Afghanistan Tue, 24 Aug 2021 04:02:04 +0000 By Patricia Gossman | Associate Asia Director | –

( Human Rights Watch) – As reports mount of grave human rights abuses by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the United Nations Human Rights Council will hold an emergency session this week. It should immediately mandate the strongest possible monitoring mechanism.

Before their takeover of Kabul on August 15, Taliban forces were already committing atrocities, including summary executions of government officials and security force members in their custody. In Kabul since then, they have raided homes of journalists and activists, apparently searching for those who criticized them in the past. In places around the country they have restricted girls’ education and women’s ability to work. This follow years of abuses by all parties to the conflict.

The situation is so grave it merited a special session of the council, to be held on August 24. It’s critical that the council adopt a resolution creating an international monitoring and accountability mechanism to address ongoing abuses.

Unfortunately, there are ominous signs that UN member countries may fail to show the leadership needed. A text drafted by Pakistan as leader of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recommends the weakest possible response, no investigation or monitoring body, just a future discussion on a report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights that was already mandated. For Afghan human rights defenders and women’s rights activists who are watching in horror as the rule of law crumbles around them, the draft resolution is more of an insult than a response. So far no country has stepped forward to lead an initiative to create a strong monitoring mechanism.

Governments may be preoccupied by the evacuation crisis at Kabul’s airport or prefer a “wait and see” approach while the Taliban consolidates control, but urgent action is needed. With serious abuses already unfolding, any delay will send a message of indifference to the Taliban, with potentially dire consequences. A failure to act now while atrocities mount could indelibly tarnish the council’s credibility not just in Afghanistan, but in other human rights crises.

The council should put in place a credible mechanism immediately.

The Afghan people are looking to the UN to stand up for human rights. The Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, should not abandon them.

Via Human Rights Watch


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Afghanistan: Reports of Taliban brutality snowball despite militants’ promise of change | ITV News

Afghanistan: At-Risk Civilians Need Evacuation, Protection: Governments Should Suspend Deportations, Forced Returns Tue, 17 Aug 2021 04:04:15 +0000 Human Rights Watch) – (New York) – Afghans at heightened risk of persecution from advancing Taliban forces are in urgent need of evacuation and international protection abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. Foreign governments should prioritize providing visas and helping ensure safe passage for civilians whom the Taliban may target for abuse because of their past work or status, along with their immediate family members.

Civilians feared to be at particular risk include those who have worked to promote human rights, democracy, and education; academics, writers, journalists, and other media workers; and people who have done work for foreign countries; among other at-risk categories. Members of ethnic minorities and Shia Muslims, in particular Hazaras, are also at greater risk.

“The Taliban have a long record of abusing or killing civilians they deem ‘enemies,’” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Whether from inside or outside of Afghanistan, governments and UN offices should provide protection and assistance to at-risk Afghans and make processing travel documents and transportation a priority.”

Governments should immediately suspend all deportations and forced returns to Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said. All countries should publicly recognize that Afghans fleeing Afghanistan should be given meaningful opportunities to seek asylum. The United Nations and UN member states should increase humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries to which Afghans are fleeing and support those countries admitting them. Governments should also increase support for emergency evacuation, relocation, and resettlement operations for Afghans, and urgently meet to adopt coordinated protocols for resettlement to third countries for people particularly at risk.

Governments should also increase support for nongovernmental groups inside and outside of Afghanistan that promote human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, education, health care, and other vital needs. Governments should ensure the participation of Afghan civil society groups in discussions of assistance and resettlement.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva should urgently pass a resolution creating a special body to collect and preserve evidence of abuses by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan and prepare files to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings, with the assistance of the UN high commissioner for human rights.

The UN Security Council should immediately adopt a resolution demanding that all parties to the Afghan conflict abide by international human rights standards and international humanitarian law, notably the humane treatment of civilians and combatants in custody. It should reiterate that the International Criminal Court, to which Afghanistan is a party, can prosecute war crimes and other atrocities. The resolution should call on all parties to ensure that all civilians, including internally displaced people, have full and free access to humanitarian assistance from UN agencies and humanitarian groups.

The Security Council is set to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in September. UNAMA’s mandate should be expanded to explicitly include collecting information and evidence of serious violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict. The council should instruct UNAMA to publicly report on its findings and share information and evidence with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court as well as other international or domestic bodies investigating war crimes and other abuses in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan’s warring parties need to recognize that the world is watching, and evidence of abuses is being collected,” Gossman said. “Those who commit atrocities can one day expect to face justice for their crimes before the International Criminal Court or another tribunal.”

Via Human Rights Watch)


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Taliban Gains pose risk to fragile Legal Protections gained by Afghan Women: HRW Wed, 11 Aug 2021 04:06:05 +0000 ( Human Rights Watch) – (New York) – The Afghan government’s failure to provide accountability for violence against women and girls has undermined progress to protect women’s rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Gains by Taliban forces as the United States completes its troop withdrawal leaves the current Afghan state, and women’s rights in particular, uncertain.

“I Thought Our Life Might Get Better”

Implementing Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence against Women Law

The 32-page report, ‘I Thought Our Life Might Get Better’: Implementing Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence against Women Law,” focuses on the experiences of Afghan women in their attempts to pursue justice against family members and others responsible for violence. Human Rights Watch found that limited enforcement of the landmark Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law has left many women and girls with no path to key protections and justice. With the Taliban making sweeping territorial gains, the prospect of a Taliban-dominated government also threatens constitutional and international law protections for Afghan women’s fundamental rights.

“International donors need to strengthen their commitment to protect Afghan women caught between government inaction and expanding Taliban control,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments that have long supported women’s rights in Afghanistan should advocate forcefully for enforcement of the EVAW law, which has driven slow but genuine change.”

With donor funding and global interest in Afghanistan declining alongside the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, women’s rights organizations and other civil society groups have raised concerns that there will be less international support for the advocacy and training needed to protect and strengthen implementation of the law. Such support has been critically important in protecting women and girls, Human Rights Watch said.

The report is based on 61 interviews with women and girls who had reported crimes, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, legal aid providers, and advocacy groups.

Since 2001, legal reforms in Afghanistan, along with expanded educational and employment opportunities, have been heralded as significant advances for Afghan women and girls. Improvements in legal protections emerged through the training of a cadre of women lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, and the adoption of new laws. Among the most important of these was the EVAW law.

The EVAW law, decreed by the president in 2009 and reconfirmed in 2018, makes 22 acts of abuse toward women criminal offenses, including rape, battery, forced marriage, preventing women from acquiring property, and prohibiting a woman or girl from going to school or work. Despite considerable resistance from conservatives inside the Afghan judiciary and parliament, the law has contributed to some genuine progress, facilitating a rise in both reporting and investigations of violent crimes against women and girls.

However, full implementation of the law remains elusive, with police, prosecutors, and judges often deterring women from filing complaints and pressing them to seek mediation within their family instead. For women who experience abuse, family pressure, financial dependence, stigma associated with filing a complaint, and fear of reprisals, including losing their children, have also created formidable obstacles to registering cases.

From the moment an Afghan woman or girl decides to file a complaint under the EVAW law, she faces resistance. In many cases involving violence from a male family member – often the husband – police discourage women from filing a case and pressure her to go home and reconcile. A woman in Herat whose husband frequently beat her said that when she complained, his parents told her that “a husband has such rights.”

Even if a woman manages to file a case, pressure from relatives frequently compels her to withdraw it. A woman who had been beaten repeatedly by both her father and her husband said that the prosecutor and her attorney told her to return home and “sacrifice herself for her children.” In most cases, women do not have access to lawyers.

Women are also pressured to accept mediation to resolve complaints and are put at risk by being coerced to reconcile with their abuser. Although the law prohibits mediation in cases of particularly egregious harm, some officials refer women and their relatives to mediation even for violent crimes, bypassing the justice system altogether and reinforcing impunity for the most serious crimes.

Police failure to arrest suspects is one of the most common reasons that cases do not progress. Police are particularly reluctant to arrest husbands accused of violence against their wives. While the revised 2018 penal code stipulates that “honor” is not a defense in a murder case, “honor killings” remain widespread. Particularly in rural areas, judicial authorities often condone them.

Many women and girls who report violent crimes against them, including but not limited to sexual assault, describe being subjected to invasive and abusive vaginal examinations, or “virginity tests,” a widely discredited practice with no scientific basis. Reported “findings” are often accepted as evidence in court, sometimes contributing to long prison sentences for the women and girls. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines in 2014 saying that such tests have no scientific validity, they remain widespread.

Despite its limitations and weak enforcement, the EVAW law is a critical legislative tool for combatting discriminatory and violent offenses against women and girls in Afghanistan. Among some jurists, the law has given other rights-promoting laws, like the anti-harassment law, a foothold, and has begun to change perceptions about addressing violence in the home and in larger Afghan society.

Growing Taliban influence and control, and the possibility of a future coalition government with conservative politicians, has heightened fears among Afghan women’s rights advocates that legislation like the EVAW law will be in danger.

“It’s vital for Afghanistan’s international partners to continue to provide substantial financial and political support to preserve the legal reforms that ensure protections for women facing violence inside and outside the home,” Gossman said.

Via Human Rights Watch


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Iran: Deadly Repression of Khuzestan Protests: Hundreds Arrested; At Least 9 Deaths, Including a Child (HRW) Sat, 31 Jul 2021 04:02:08 +0000 ( Human Rights Watch) – (Beirut) – The rising death toll and mass arrests raise grave concerns about the Iranian authorities’ response to recent protests in Khuzestan and other provinces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release peaceful protesters, provide information about deaths, and allow an independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force. All those responsible for abuses should be held to account.

(C) Human Rights Watch.

“The Iranian political leaders’ primary response to widespread demands for basic rights has been unchecked repression,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Only a transparent investigation into the deaths of protesters, holding security forces accountable for wrongdoing, and a commitment to address long-term grievances can begin to address the local population’s loss of trust in the authorities.”

Since July 15, 2021, Iranians have protested deteriorating living conditions in Khuzestan and several other provinces, including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj. As of July 28, human rights groups have verified the identities of at least nine people who were shot dead or died of injuries during the protests, including a 17-year-old boy, in Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces. Iranian government officials have announced the death of three protesters and a police officer during the protests. Videos shared on social media from protests in cities in Khuzestan show security officials shooting firearms and teargas toward protesters.

On July 15, people in dozens of towns and cities in Khuzestan province, which has a large ethnic Arab population, took to the streets for several nights to protest not having clean water for days. Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) identified six victims and at least 171 people arrested during the protests. Unconfirmed reports indicate the number of deaths and arrests may be higher. Amnesty International and Radio Zamaneh news outlet have published the names of three more people who were killed during the protests.

On July 21, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s national security council, wrote on his Twitter account that the authorities have ordered the release of those arrested during the protests in Khuzestan “who have not committed any criminal act.” On July 25, Mizan News, the judiciary’s news agency, reported that Gholamhossein Ejeyi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, had ordered the Khuzestan courts to release those arrested for protesting and a review of those convicted for the November 2019 protests, which began over gasoline prices and transformed into a broader expression of popular discontent with the government’s repression and perceived corruption. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented that Iran’s judiciary regularly uses vaguely defined national security charges to prosecute peaceful dissent and subjects detainees to mistreatment, torture, and unfair trials.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life, and warnings should be given when possible. The authorities should promptly report and investigate all incidents of law enforcement officials killing or wounding people with firearms through an independent administrative or prosecutorial process.

Over the past four years, Iranian authorities have responded to widespread protests with increasingly excessive and lethal force, mass arrests, and internet shutdowns. In November 2019, in one of most brutal crackdowns, security forces used excessive and unlawful lethal force against massive protests across the country. Amnesty International reported that at least 304 people were killed. Iranian authorities said that 230 people were killed, but have failed to conduct any transparent investigation into serious allegations of unlawful use of force by security officials and instead prosecuted protesters in unfair trials.

Human Rights Watch reiterates its previous calls on the member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a UN-led inquiry into alleged serious rights violations during and in the aftermath of the widespread protests.

There are longstanding concerns across Iran, and Khuzestan in particular, over mismanagement of water resources and pollution from oil development. For decades environmental experts have warned that development projects in oil-rich Khuzestan, including the construction of hydroelectric dams, irrigation schemes, and water transfers to neighboring provinces, are causing environmental harm and leading to water shortages affecting a range of people’s rights.

“Crises of government incompetence, repression, and impunity are converging in Iran, harming and immiserating millions of Iranians every day,” Sepehri Far said.

People killed during the protests:

  1. Mostafa Naeemavi, 30, in Shadegan, Khuzestan, on July 16, 2021, according to state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  2. Ghassem Nasseri (Khozeiri), in Kut-e Abdollah, Khuzestan. Injured on July 16, 2021, and died at the hospital on July 17, according to state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  3. Hadi Bahmani, 17, in Izeh, Khuzestan, on July 22, 2021, according to HRANA and Radio Zamaneh.
  4. Hamzeh (Farzad) Fereisat, 32, in Ahvaz, Khuzestan, on July 20, 2021, according to HRANA and Radio Zamaneh.
  5. Omid Azarkhosh, in Aligudarz, Lorestan. Injured on July 18, 2021, and died at the hospital on July 21, according to HRANA and state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  6. Meysam Achrash, in Taleghani town, Khuzestan, on July 22, 2021, according to HRANA.
  7. Isa Baledi, 27, in Taleghani town, on July 21, 2021, according to Amnesty International and Radio Zamaneh.
  8. Mehdi Chanani, in Shoush, Khuzestan, according to Amnesty International.
  9. Hamid Mojadam (Jokari), in Chamran Town, Khuzestan, according to Amnesty International.

Via Human Rights Watch


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Ben and Jerry’s Is Shunning Israeli Settlements. The US Should Too Tue, 27 Jul 2021 04:02:02 +0000 By Sari Bashi | Special Advisor, Program Office | –

Published in: Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)

( Human Rights Watch ) – Ben & Jerry’s, the popular Vermont-based ice cream company, announced earlier this week that it will stop selling its products to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Activists have long called on companies to stop doing business in Israeli settlements, which violate international law. Ben & Jerry’s decision is the latest indication of growing U.S. public understanding that the Israeli government is violating Palestinian rights, and that Americans should avoid complicity in those abuses.

The Israeli military has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza since the war in 1967. Over the past 54 years, the Israeli government has settled more than 660,000 Israeli civilians in the West Bank, home to more than 3 million Palestinians. To create and expand settlements, Israeli authorities seize Palestinian land, give it to Israelis and physically separate it from the rest of the West Bank, forcibly displacing Palestinians and severely restricting their freedom of movement. Palestinians are barred from entering settlements, except as workers bearing hard-to-get and temporary labor permits. Businesses operating in settlements inherently contribute to these abuses, because business activity helps sustain the settlements and takes place under discriminatory conditions.

For decades, the U.S. government has downplayed the harm that Israeli settlements have caused Palestinians, insisting that their status would be resolved through a U.S.-brokered political solution that would end the so-called “conflict” between Israelis and Palestinians. Framing Israeli control over Palestinians as a conflict between two parties or two peoples distorts the reality on the ground: The Israeli government is exercising authority over nearly 7 million Jews and nearly 7 million Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and it is methodically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the West Bank and Gaza.

Human Rights Watch: “Israel Committing Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”

But increasing numbers of Americans—including many fans of Chunky Monkey ice cream—have become less willing to accept persistent and severe human rights abuses as an unfortunate but unavoidable byproduct of the long-moribund “peace process.” More and more celebrities, writers and members of Congress consider Israel’s discriminatory rule over millions of Palestinians not as a “conflict” whose resolution awaits the outcome of fruitless U.S.-backed negotiations, but rather as the crime of apartheid, to be ended by respecting the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians on an equal basis, no matter what political arrangement exists or is created.

A recent poll by the Jewish Electoral Institute found that a quarter of American Jews believe the Israeli government is committing apartheid, and 59 percent support restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Israel, to avoid funding settlements. Americans struggling for racial justice at home have forged ties of solidarity with Palestinian activists based on a shared vision of equal rights.

Even Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Israelis and Palestinians “alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity.” In May, for the first time ever, members of both the House and Senate initiated resolutions to block U.S. weapons sales to the Israeli government, on human rights grounds. Although the resolutions did not succeed, they represented a sea change in Washington’s hitherto unquestioned support for arming the Israeli government.

Human Rights Watch determined in a major report released in April that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as defined under international law. An overarching Israeli government policy maintains the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, while the Israeli authorities commit grave abuses against Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. A wide range of legal experts, human rights groups and others have asked governments, including the United States, to recognize this reality and to adjust their foreign policies accordingly.

While President Joe Biden has distanced himself from the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli settlements, he has reverted to long-standing U.S. policies that fuel violations of Palestinian rights. Under the Biden administration, the United States has defaulted to providing the Israeli government with $3.8 billion annually in sophisticated weapons with few safeguards against their abuse. His administration even proceeded with a sale of $735 million of precision-guided munitions in May, just as the Israeli military was using those kinds of weapons to level multistory buildings that housed homes and businesses in Gaza, including the bureau of an American news agency, the Associated Press.

The Biden administration, like those before it, is also continuing to thwart any resolutions at the United Nations Security Council that condemn Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza. And the U.S. is still facilitating American investment in Israeli settlements as well, through tax benefits for donations to settlements and preferential trade terms for products made in settlements.

Although the Biden administration refuses to acknowledge that American business activity in Israeli settlements contributes to serious violations of human rights, Ben & Jerry’s drew its own conclusions. Citing concerns expressed by stakeholders, the company announced that selling ice cream in the settlements was inconsistent with its values, and that it would end sales by the end of 2022. While the company’s statement referred generally to sales in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Ben & Jerry’s board chair, Anuradha Mittal, clarified that the announcement followed a July 2020 board resolution to end sales of Ben & Jerry’s products in Israeli settlements.

The Israeli government immediately attacked its decision. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he called the head of Unilever, which owns Ben & Jerry’s, threatening aggressive action. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it contacted the governors of the 31 U.S. states that have laws or executive orders penalizing companies for boycotting Israel or Israeli settlements and asked them to take action against Ben & Jerry’s—an iconic American company. Authorities in Texas said they were assessing whether to add Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever to a list of companies barred from state contracts or state investment. Some Jewish groups announced their own boycott of Ben & Jerry’s, and a New York-based supermarket chain said it would downgrade its marketing of Ben & Jerry’s products.

The Israeli government and its supporters are following the playbook they used in 2018, the last time a major U.S. company announced it would pull out of Israeli settlements. Following a lawsuit in a U.S. court and enormous pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Airbnb reversed a decision to stop listing rental homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including homes built on privately owned Palestinian land taken over by Israeli settlers.

But the emerging rights-based discourse in the U.S., together with the ugliness of being associated with settlements, will make it harder this time for the Israeli government to push Ben & Jerry’s to back track. The legal status of Israeli settlements is clear: They violate the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits the occupying power from transferring its civilians to occupied territory. The settlements contribute to serious human rights abuses in the West Bank, and they amount to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The U.S. government should take a cue from the Vermont ice cream maker and assume responsibility for its involvement in Israeli government abuses, in line with its own international human rights obligations. It should issue law-based guidance warning U.S. companies of the implications of doing business in Israeli settlements, as it does in other places, like China’s Xinjiang region, where business activity would put American firms at risk of complicity in serious human rights abuses.

The Biden administration should also end U.S. subsidies for charitable donations to settlements and exclude settlement goods from favorable trade agreements applied to Israeli products. And it should implement the recommendations made by human rights groups to condition military and security assistance to the Israeli government on concrete and verifiable steps to end the crimes of apartheid and persecution, of which settlements are a central element. Blinken has a chance to show that his stated commitment to “equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity” for Israelis and Palestinians is not just rhetoric but rather U.S. policy.

Via Human Rights Watch