Human Rights Watch – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 08 Jun 2023 03:01:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Palestinian Forum Highlights Threats of Autonomous Weapons Thu, 08 Jun 2023 04:08:35 +0000

Forum Tackles Digital Rights Abuses Against Palestinians


( Human Rights Watch) – In late May, I addressed a panel on the militarization of digital spaces – specifically on how Israeli authorities use surveillance technologies to deepen systemic discrimination against Palestinians. I warned that the use of autonomy in weapons systems was a dangerous part of this trend and highlighted the urgent need for an international legal response.    

This panel was part of this year’s Palestine Digital Activism Forum, hosted by the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, also known as 7amleh. More than 1,500 participants from local and international civil society organizations met to discuss the digital rights challenges faced by Palestinians and activists working on the Palestinian cause.

Amnesty International’s new report, “Automated Apartheid,” details the extensive use of facial and biometric recognition technologies by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank to facilitate their commission of the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians.

Image by Tayeb MEZAHDIA from Pixabay

Similar surveillance tools fuel discrimination against communities of color globally. As my co-panelist Mona Shtaya from 7amleh said, “Palestinians are living under a state of surveillance in which the occupiers benefit from the occupation by testing tactics and software on Palestinians, which will be exported later on worldwide.”

In addition to their use of invasive surveillance technologies and monitoring of Palestinian cyberspace, Israeli authorities are also developing autonomous weapons systems. These trends, globally reflect a slide towards digital dehumanization, and in the case of Israel this means of Palestinians. Israeli authorities have developed and used drones, loitering munitions, and remote-controlled gun turrets, like the Smart Shooter recently installed in Hebron and Bethlehem. A senior Israeli defense official said recently that authorities are looking at “the ability of platforms to strike in swarms, or of combat systems to operate independently, of data fusion and of assistance in fast decision-making, on a scale greater than we have ever seen.”

Incorporating artificial intelligence and emerging technologies into weapons systems raises a host of ethical, humanitarian, and legal concerns for all people, including Palestinians. Campaigners have called for the adoption of a treaty containing prohibitions and restrictions on autonomous weapons systems, which many countries, including Palestine, have joined.

Autonomous weapons systems could help automate Israel’s uses of force. These uses of force are frequently unlawful and help entrench Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians. Without new international law to subvert the dangers this technology poses, the autonomous weapon systems Israel is developing today could contribute to their proliferation worldwide and harm the most vulnerable.

Via Human Rights Watch

Saudi Arabia Executes Two Shia Bahrainis on Terrorism Charges in “Grossly Unfair” Trial Sat, 03 Jun 2023 04:02:37 +0000 By Leila Saad | –

( Human Rights Watch ) – Two Bahraini Shi’a men have been executed in Saudi Arabia following what Amnesty International described as a “grossly unfair trial” on terrorism-related charges.

Jaafar Sultan and Sadeq Thamer were arrested in May 2015 and held incommunicado for more than three months, according to Amnesty International. The charges were related to allegations of smuggling explosives inside Saudi Arabia and participating in protests in Bahrain.

The two Bahrainis were tried and sentenced to death in Saudi’s notorious Specialized Criminal Court in October 2021 following protest-related charges that fall within the Saudi counterterrorism law.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, continue to use overbroad provisions contained within terrorism laws to suppress dissent and target religious minorities.

Counterterrorism laws in the GCC typically include broad, vague charges and definitions of terrorism used as catch-all provisions to punish peaceful dissidents, political activists, and human rights defenders.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim minority has long suffered systemic discrimination and been targeted by state-funded hate speech. On March 12, 2022, Saudi Arabian authorities executed 81 men, 41 of whom are said to belong to the Shi’a Muslim minority, under its counterterrorism law, despite promises to curtail executions.

Bahrain’s Shi’a majority also suffers from discrimination. Bahraini authorities have systematically targeted Shia clerics and have violently arrested numerous human rights defenders with Shia backgrounds, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja in April 2011, who they sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial under Bahrain’s terrorism law.

Overly broad terrorism charges have also been exploited by other Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced Khalaf Abdul Rahman al-Romaithi to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges following a grossly unfair trial known as the “UAE94” mass trials of 94 critics of the Emirati government. Al-Romaithi was recently extradited from Jordan to the UAE.

Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding violations of due process and fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, making it unlikely that Sultan and Thamer received a fair trial leading up to their execution. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances as a cruel and inhumane punishment.

Via Human Rights Watch

75 Years Later, Israel Blocking Palestinian Refugees’ Return Wed, 24 May 2023 04:06:42 +0000

Nakba: Anniversary Highlights Continued Israeli Repression

Tunisia: Move to Dismantle Country’s Largest Opposition Party Sat, 13 May 2023 04:02:56 +0000

Prominent Leaders Arbitrarily Arrested; Party Headquarters Shut Down

( Human Rights Watch ) – (Tunis) – Tunisian authorities have intensified their attack on opponents of President Kais Saied’s 2021 power grab, moving to neutralize the country’s largest political party, Ennahda, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since December 2022, the Tunisian government has arrested at least 17 current or former members of the party, including its leader, and shut its offices across the country. The authorities should immediately release all those arbitrarily detained and end restrictions on freedom of association and assembly.

The arrests have continued following a wave in mid-February that targeted figures of various political affiliations, bringing the number of public figures deemed critical of Saied behind bars to at least 30. Most have been accused of “conspiring against state security.” The Ennahda-linked detainees include four former ministers and several former parliament members. The party President and former speaker of parliament Rached Ghannouchi and two party vice presidents, Ali Laarayedh and Nourredine Bhiri, are among them. None has been formally charged.

“After demonizing the Ennahda Party and making serious accusations without proof, President Saied’s authorities have moved to effectively dismantle it,” said Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch. “Tunisian authorities’ latest tactic to muzzle critical voices consists of tossing around conspiracy charges left and right against all those who challenge the president’s increasingly authoritarian bent.”

The authorities have accused most of the detainees of “conspiracy against state security” without clarifying the criminal acts that constitute the alleged conspiracy.

Seven Ennahda-related cases for which Human Rights Watch has been able to get additional information show the political nature of the arrests, the reliance on flimsy evidence, and disregard for due-process rights. At least four of these cases amount to barring peaceful expression.

Founded in 1981, Ennahda – formerly the Islamic Tendency Movement – was legalized only in 2011, after a popular uprising ousted the longtime authoritarian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Ennahda played a central role in all government coalitions until 2019.

Ennahda President Ghannouchi has been a prominent opponent of Saied’s one-man-rule that followed his seizure of extraordinary powers on July 25, 2021. On April 17, plainclothes officers arrested Ghannouchi at his home. They did not show an arrest warrant, one of his lawyers told Human Rights Watch.

On April 20, an investigative judge issued a detention warrant for Ghannouchi on charges of attempting to “change the nature of the state” and “conspiring against internal state security,” crimes for which a death sentence is possible. The accusations are based on a warning by Ghannouchi on April 15 during a meeting that alienating opposition political movements, including Ennahda and “the left,” was a “project for civil war.”

How Tunisia’s democratic revolution turned into autocratic rule | DW News

Over the past 18 months, Ghannouchi, 81, has been questioned in relation to 19 different investigations, his lawyer Mokhtar Jemai said in a radio interview.

The police closed Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis on April 18, without presenting any court decision or formal document, another lawyer said. Security forces have prevented members from accessing the offices of the party across the country, the lawyer said.

The same day, the authorities shut the Tunis headquarters of a party known as the Tunisia Will Movement, which hosted activities of the National Salvation Front (NSF), an opposition coalition cofounded by Ennahda.

An unverified Interior Ministry memorandum invoking the state of emergency – which has continuously been extended since 2015 – ordering the closure of Ennahda’s offices and banning their meetings across the country, as well as the NSF’s gatherings in Tunis, has circulated online.

The two Ennahda vice presidents, Laarayedh and Bhiri, are being held in Mornaguia prison. Laarayedh, 67, a former interior and prime minister, is facing prosecution for decisions he made in office between 2011 and 2014 that allegedly failed to combat fundamentalism and Islamic extremist violence “in the necessary way.” He has been held since December 19, without being brought before a judge.

Former Justice Minister Bhiri was arrested on February 13 for attempting to “change the nature of the state,” his lawyer, Amine Bouker, told Human Rights Watch, for a Facebook post urging, Tunisians to demonstrate against Saied on January 14, the anniversary of Ben Ali’s ouster. Bhiri’s lawyers said he did not write or post the call.

Said Ferjani, another Ennahda leader who was in the Parliament dissolved by Saied in March 2022, was arrested in Tunis on February 27 as part of an investigation into the digital content production company Instalingo, one of his lawyers said. The state prosecutor has accused the company, whose customers include Arabic-speaking media organizations critical of Saied, of inciting violence and slandering Saied.

Ferjani is accused of “money laundering,” attempting to “change the nature of the state,” “undermining external State security,” and inciting violence, among other charges – including under the 2015 Anti-Terrorist law – some of which are punishable by death. An investigative judge questioned Ferjani on March 1 about his relationships and finances. His family and lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he has no link with the company. He is in Sousse prison and he has not been further questioned by a judge.

At least two other Ennahda members are detained in the Instalingo case: the former Investment Minister Riadh Bettaieb, his lawyer told Human Rights Watch, and Ghannouchi, who was placed under a detention warrant in this case on May 9.

Mohamed Mzoughi, Ennahda’s head of public relations in the city of Beja, was arrested on March 9. The following day, Mohamed Saleh Bouallagui, Ennahda’s general secretary in Beja, was arrested. They remain in detention, accused of “conspiracy against state security” including through “contacts with a foreign power,” “insulting the president” and terrorism-related charges for their alleged role in managing social media pages critical of Saied’s rule, their lawyers said.

Documents filed by the state prosecutor indicate that Bouallagui and Mzoughi are being investigated under the 2015 Anti-Terrorist law for offenses punishable by up to 20 years in prison, including “membership in a terrorist organization,” “using the Tunisian territory to commit terrorist offenses,” “providing weapons” and money laundering. They are also being investigated under articles of the Penal Code and article 86 of the Telecommunications Code. The investigative judge last questioned Mzoughi on March 24 and Bouallagui on March 28.

Mohamed Ben Salem, a former Ennahda leader and former minister of agriculture, was arrested on March 3, without a warrant, in the southeastern town of Bir Lahmar. He is being investigated for “forming an organization aiming to prepare and commit the crime of illegally leaving the Tunisian territory” under article 42 of law 1975-40 on Travel Documents and “holding sums of money in foreign currency,” under articles of the foreign exchange code.

Ben Salem has not been questioned by a judge since his detention. However, the financial crimes police unit interrogated him on April 12 in a separate investigation into alleged corruption.

Four other people are detained in relation to the cases against Ben Salem, including former Ennahda parliament member, Ahmed Laamari, his lawyer told Human Rights Watch.

Ben Salem, detained in Sfax prison, has lost his ability to walk and suffered two strokes since his arrest, his lawyer, Abdelwahhab Maatar, told Human Rights Watch. He has had a heart condition and chronic diseases for years, his family said.

Ruling by decree, Saied has systematically undermined judicial independence, raising fair trial concerns for these and other people accused after they criticized him. In February 2022, Saied dissolved the High Judicial Council, which was mandated to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and appointed a temporary body over which he has broad control. In June 2022, he granted himself the authority to unilaterally dismiss magistrates and fired 57. The authorities have refused to comply with an administrative court order to reinstate 49 of them.

Under international law, a suspect should be held in pretrial detention only in exceptional circumstances when the court provides reasons for holding them that are compelling, individualized, and subject to periodic review and appeal. Pretrial detention is only to be imposed as “an exception” under article 84 of Tunisia’s Criminal Procedure Code.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Tunisia is a party, protects the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. Tunisia is also bound under the ICCPR and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respect the right to a fair trial.

“The Tunisian authorities should stop their reprisal against Ennahda and other opponents and release all those jailed in the absence of credible evidence of crimes,” Chellali said.

Via Human Rights Watch

Iraq Gas Flaring Tied to Cancer Surge Mon, 08 May 2023 04:04:31 +0000

Death of Ali Hussein Jaloud Highlights Harm of Fossil Fuels

( Human Rights Watch) – Ali Hussein Jaloud, an Iraqi man barely in his 20s, died April 21 of leukemia, a disease Ali and his family attributed to the pollution from the oil production and constant gas flares that surround their community in the southern Iraqi town of Rumaila, about 50 kilometers from the port city of Basra.

Many of us around the world felt we knew Ali and suffered his death personally, having followed his story in BBC and Unearthed investigations of the human and environmental toll of fossil fuel operations in Iraq, focusing on the devastation caused by flaring.

Flaring occurs when fossil fuel companies burn off excess methane gas from oil operations rather than capturing the gas in pipelines. When burned, the powerful greenhouse gas more than 80 times more potent at global warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period – is released into the atmosphere. After Russia, Iraq accounts for the most flared gas in the world.

Flaring also releases toxic pollutants known to harm human health, including benzene, a human carcinogen that can cause leukemia. An Iraq Health Ministry report leaked to the BBC attributed pollution from the oil industry, among other sources, as the cause of a 20 percent rise in cancer in Basra between 2015 and 2018,  and revealed cancer cases in the region to be  three times higher than publicly disclosed figures.

Iraqi government officials have acknowledged a link between the oil pollution from flaring and cancer. Iraq’s former environment minister, Jassem al-Falahi, told the BBC that pollution from oil production is the main reason for increases in cancer rates in Basra. Similarly, Luay Al-Khateeb, Iraq’s former oil minister, told Unearthed that unregulated oil operations in southern Iraq and “poisonous gases being flared in the air” are the link to rising cancer rates.

Flaring is a global crisis with clear solutions. The Iraqi government should start by moving beyond simply acknowledging the problem to enacting and enforcing tight regulations to restrict flaring, providing proper health services to impacted communities, and making polluters compensate those who have suffered, as required by Iraqi law. To address the full harm to local communities and the global climate, the government should transition away from fossil fuels.

Ali’s was a tragic yet predictable death. “I hope in the future that these companies go away,” Ali says in the film. “That the emissions stop, so children can live in peace.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Tunisia Doubles Down on Democratic Rollback Thu, 04 May 2023 04:04:56 +0000

Rached Ghannouchi’s Arrest and Ali Laarayedh’s Imprisonment Reveal the Extent of Kais Saied’s Attack on Democracy

Published in: Foreign Policy

( Human Rights Watch ) – Some coups and power grabs start with the arrest of the leader of the political opposition. In Tunisia, it took almost two years for President Kais Saied to jail Rached Ghannouchi, the longtime president of Ennahda party and former parliamentary speaker. Since July 2021, when Saied arrogated to himself emergency powers, suspended parliament, and began ruling by decree, his assault on human rights has been a steady drip, drip rather than a massive show of force on day one.

When Saied had Ghannouchi arrested on April 18 on flimsy charges of inciting violence, it was not only to eliminate a political foe. Faced with growing unease at his inability to improve Tunisia’s ailing economy, Saied was stoking his supporters’ antipathy toward Ennahda, both among those who blame the party for its record while in government and those who dislike the party in principle because they suspect it of harboring an extremist Islamist agenda despite its professed adherence to democracy and pluralism.

Photo by Juan Ordonez on Unsplash

Ghannouchi has been the lightning rod for these two lines of criticism. But he is only one of approximately a dozen current and former Ennahda figures jailed since December on politically motivated charges, along with several critics of Saied from other political movements.

After Ghannouchi, the best-known of the jailed Ennahda figures is Ali Laarayedh. The 67-year-old former interior and prime minister seems to be Exhibit A in Saied’s effort to shore up his base by demonizing those who preceded him in governing the country.

Ghannouchi has not known prison since the 1980s, having fled into exile for more than two decades before returning to Tunisia in early 2011. By contrast, Laarayedh’s relation with Tunisian prisons has a long pedigree, one that tells the story of the ups and—mainly—the downs of human rights in Tunisia, from a police state to the Arab Spring’s relative success story to the current slide back into autocracy.

Born months before his country became independent in 1956, Laarayedh has served prison time under three presidents. Each time, the charges have been political and based on flimsy or dubious evidence.

In 1981, Laarayedh—a maritime engineer by training—founded with Ghannouchi and others the Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI), an unrecognized political party. Laarayedh was among 90 MTI members tried by State Security Court in 1987 for sedition. Two of his co-defendants who, like Laarayedh, got the death penalty were promptly executed, prompting fears of a backlash against Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, who had ruled with an iron fist for three decades.

Partly in response, in November 1987, Interior Minister Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali staged a “medical coup” against 84-year-old Bourguiba and promptly commuted the death sentences against Laarayedh and his co-defendants, before pardoning them in 1988 and 1989.

Ben Ali’s tolerance of the country’s leading Islamist movement, which changed its name from the MTI to Ennahda (Renaissance), proved short-lived. Following scattered incidents of Islamist violence, Ben Ali outlawed the group and began rounding up hundreds, mostly on charges of membership in an illegal organization and other nonviolent offenses. Laarayedh, as the movement’s spokesperson, was detained more than once before military courts convicted him and 264 co-defendants in 1992 in a pair of mass trials—tainted by coerced confessions and due-process violations—on charges of plotting to overthrow the state. Of those co-defendants, 46 men were sentenced to life terms.

Laarayedh got 15 years and ended up serving 14. Among the thousands of party members who filled Ben Ali’s prisons, Laarayedh served the most time in solitary confinement, spending more than 11 years in isolation across seven prisons.

Laarayedh described the experience to me in 2004, shortly after his release: “In isolation, the only person you can speak to is the guard. But from time to time, the prison staff would decide not to address a single word to you, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for an entire week. … It makes you despondent, ready to do something desperate, toward the guard, or toward yourself, just to prove you exist.”

Like many ex-prisoners, Laarayedh remained under surveillance but resumed his political activities within Ennahda, heading its political bureau. In 2005, the party leadership joined a coalition with several non-Islamist parties to demand basic democratic rights.

In December 2010, a popular revolt, set off by the self-immolation of the persecuted peddler Mohamed Bouazizi, spread across Tunisia, leading to Ben Ali’s ouster and igniting protests across the region. One week after Ben Ali fled the country, the interim government freed political prisoners en masse. Two months later, authorities reversed Ben Ali’s ban on Ennahda and legalized it as a political party.

In October 2011, Tunisia held its first free and fair election, giving Ennahda a plurality in the Constituent Assembly, enabling it to govern in coalition with two secular parties in the so-called “Troika.” In December 2011, Laarayedh became interior minister, moving into the imposing office upstairs from the basement cells where he and his Ennahda colleagues had been tortured decades earlier. He moved on to serve nearly one year as prime minister.

During those post-revolutionary years, Tunisians could speak out and demonstrate without fear of arrest. They had much to protest. Tunisia was not spared the rise of the Islamic State and its affiliates globally. The 2013assassinations in Tunis of two leftist politicians, which were widely blamed on Islamist extremists and condemned by Ennahda, led to massive demonstrations demanding the resignation of the government, which had also failed to reverse the economy’s downward spiral.

The Laarayedh government—the last one led by Ennahda—stepped down in January 2014 in favor of a caretaker government, just before parliament adopted Tunisia’s first post-revolution constitution.

Successor governments also struggled with the scourge of extremist armed attacks, including two in 2015 claimed by the Islamic State that killed 60 people at a museum and a beach resort, hobbling the country’s critical tourist industry.

Those governments also struggled to rekindle the economy, fueling public discontent that contributed to the resounding victory of Saied, a political outsider, as president in the 2019 general elections.

Laarayedh stepped down as a member of parliament after those elections but remained a vice president of Ennahda. On Dec. 9, 2021, a fire engulfed Ennahda’s national headquarters in Tunis after a young member immolated himself; Laarayedh jumped from a second-story window, fracturing his pelvis and femur.

Tunisia’s economic outlook has only worsened during Saied’s early tenure, buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s botched response to it. On July 25, 2021, Saied suspended parliament and began an ongoing process of consolidating power over state institutions that could stand in his way. He has eviscerated the independence of the judiciary and the election oversight body and implemented a new constitution centralizing power under the president.

Under Saied, a number of Ennahda leaders have been jailed. These include Noureddine Bhiri, detained in December 2021 on accusations that when he was a government minister between 2011 and 2013, he facilitated travel documents for Tunisians to join the Islamic State and other armed groups fighting in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. At the time, young Tunisians were leaving by the thousands to join the group. The authorities released Bhiri two months later without charging him, only to rearrest him in February 2023; he has yet to be charged.

Ghannouchi, since his arrest for incitement, has been shuttled from prison to an anti-terrorism unit of the National Guard for questioning. The day after his arrest, authorities closed the national headquarters of Ennahda and banned its members from holding meetings, bringing the country one step closer to the Ben Ali era, when the party was formally banned, and thousands were sent to prison merely for the “crime” of membership.

As for Laarayedh, a counterterrorism judge summoned him for questioning on Dec. 19, 2022, and ordered him detained, two days after an embarrassing 11percent of voters showed up to elect a chamber of deputies with reduced powers under Saied’s new constitution.

Laarayedh has now been in Mornaguia prison for four months without seeing a judge or being formally charged. His detention warrant makes clear that the accusations against him stem from policy decisions he made while in government, which allegedly failed to effectively counter extremism and terrorism “in the necessary way, thus contributing to … the increase in the departure of young people to hotbeds of tension for jihad.”

While Laarayedh as a government minister did not eradicate terrorism, no evidence has emerged to date to link him to any crimes. It is no accident that alongside the Ennahda-related figures currently in custody, most of the more secular-leaning political figures currently in detention advocate including Ennahda in a united opposition front. In February, Saied denounced them as “terrorists.”

From death row under Tunisia’s first president to 11 years in solitary confinement under its second, Laarayedh is back in prison under the country’s latest authoritarian president.

Whatever the shortcomings of Laarayedh’s tenure in government, one thing is clear: When he was interior and prime minister, Tunisians enjoyed more freedom to speak out than under any of the presidents who imprisoned him.

Via Human Rights Watch

Any New Yemen Truce must allow Participation of Citizens and Civil Society Sat, 22 Apr 2023 04:06:51 +0000 Human Rights Watch – (Beirut) – Negotiations for a new truce in Yemen by Saudi and Houthi authorities present an opportunity to incorporate accountability and monitoring mechanisms that are essential for protecting Yemenis’ fundamental rights, Human Rights watch said today. Based on news reports, negotiations are apparently making progress.

To effectively address Yeminis’ human rights, any new truce would require provisions for the genuine participation of Yemeni civil society in discussions on issues affecting their rights, the release of everyone arbitrarily detained, a plan to survey and clear all landmines and explosive remnants of war, and a commitment to accountability and redress for wartime abuses. The parties to the conflict, as well as the UN and powerful states, have comprehensively failed to hold rights violators accountable since the conflict began in 2014. Their continued abuses have reinforced the need for an independent, international, investigative mechanism to end impunity.

“The real beneficiaries of this truce should be Yemeni civilians, rather than leaders of the parties to the conflict, who have no interest in being held accountable for their grave violations of international law” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yemeni civil society and activists have been effectively frozen out of negotiations, leaving people in Yemen with no one to represent their interests.”

Warring parties agreed to a two-month UN-brokered truce in 2022, which included an agreement to cease all offensive military operations, as well to allow fuel ships to enter Hudaydah ports and to restart commercial flights from Sana’a airport. The parties renewed the truce twice, ending on October 2. However, violations continued, and key provisions to protect civilians were not included.

Throughout the conflict, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented widespread violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The Saudi- and UAE-led coalition, intervening on behalf of the government, destroyed and damaged civilian infrastructure, including homes, medical facilities, schools, markets, and water and food sources and infrastructure through its air campaign, some of which may amount to war crimes. The Houthis, who control the capital and much of the rest of the country, have fired mortars, rockets, and missiles into densely populated areas both in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia, constituting other possible war crimes, and have laid landmines in civilian areas across the country.

view of central Sanaa city old town skyline traditional buildings in yemen

Credit: jackmalipan via Unsplash

Despite a decrease in civilian casualties and the re-opening of Sana’a airport for commercial flights, civilian harm continued during the truce. Based on data from the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, there were about 938 civilian casualties in the six months of the truce. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project’s Yemen Truce Monitor recorded 2,208 incidents of shelling, artillery, and missile attacks – an eightfold increase from the six months prior to the truce, as well as 374 air/drone strikes and 369 armed clashes.

Save the Children found that parties to the conflict killed or injured 38 children in the last week of July – the highest number recorded since early 2020.

Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni civil society organization, recorded at least 14 indiscriminate ground attacks throughout the truce. In one attack, on July 23, 2022, the Houthis shelled a residential neighborhood in Taizz, killing one child and wounding 11 other.

Since the disbanding of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated monitoring body, the Group of Eminent Experts, in 2021, there has been no international monitoring of rights violations in Yemen. While nongovernmental groups and other UN bodies have partly bridged that gap, their work has not replaced an adequately resourced UN-endorsed independent investigative body. It is difficult to assess whether the harm to civilians during the truce constituted violations of international law. However, the significant number of civilian casualties may demonstrate that warring parties were not taking adequate precautionary measures, when they should not have been fighting at all.

Further, the Houthis rejected the UN Special Envoy’s plans for a provision in the truce to reopen roads in Taiz and other places. The main roads in and out of Taiz have been blocked by the Houthis since 2015, severely restricting the freedom of movement of civilians and critical humanitarian aid.

Parties to the conflict, and the Houthis in particular, continued to restrict humanitarian access. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded about 1205 incidents of blocking or interfering with humanitarian access during the truce, including violence against aid workers. In the three months after the start of the truce, violence against aid workers and facilities increased by 40 percent from the previous three months.

For a new truce to uphold the rights of people in Yemen, it is critical to meaningfully include Yemeni civil society actors on key issues, including the rights of women and minority groups. Parties to the conflict should also release everyone arbitrarily detained and reveal what happened to others who had been disappeared, who include human rights activists and journalists.

Parties to the conflict have damaged or destroyed Yemen’s critical infrastructure, severely impairing Yemenis’ rights, such to health, water, sanitation, and education. To recover from the conflict, the parties to the conflict should commit to surveying and clearing the large quantities of landmines and other explosive remnants of war scattered across the country and provide aid to rebuild damaged or destroyed infrastructure. Finally, parties should be held accountable for their serious violations over the course of the conflict, including ending impunity for those who carried out or oversaw likely war crimes.

Civil society has not been formally included in the truce discussions or meaningfully included in broader negotiations led by the UN special envoy.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention by coalition forces, particularly by Saudi Arabia and UAE forces, and as well as Yemeni forces backed by the UAE. While the recent exchange of nearly 900 detainees was a significant move by both sides, many more people remain arbitrarily detained and disappeared by all warring parties. A truce should ensure their release.

Landmines – including internationally-banned anti-personnel landmines – and explosive remnants of war remain scattered across the country. During the truce, explosive remnants were the leading cause of civilian casualties, causing around 300 casualties over the course of 6 months. Children and women are particularly vulnerable, and landmines’ widespread use has led to displacement and the loss of livelihoods. Current clearance efforts are limited and under-resourced, leaving hundreds of thousands more landmines to be cleared.

Finally, warring parties have not been held accountable for their actions throughout the conflict – including for violating the truce. Parties to the conflict have caused at least 20,000 civilian casualties, and over 21 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid. Over 4.5 million people have been displaced, and the conflict has left critical infrastructure – including medical facilities and water and food infrastructure – across the country damaged or destroyed.

Under international law, warring parties are obligated to provide reparations for violating the law. But according to Mwatana for Human Rights and Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, the warring parties have failed to effectively provide reparations. Human Rights Watch research has demonstrated that fair trials, as well as reparations, reconstruction, and other forms of development are needed to move “society forward in a sustainable way.”

“Disbanding the Group of Eminent Experts has left an incredible gap in the ability of Yemeni civilians to achieve accountability and redress,” Jafarnia said. “A new truce should address this gap by including the establishment of an international investigative mechanism, which is the first step toward achieving accountability.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Yemen Must Release Arbitrarily Detained People (HRW) Thu, 20 Apr 2023 04:02:49 +0000

Joint Statement Urges Warring Parties to Reveal Fate of Forcibly Detained

Human Rights Watch – (Beirut) – All parties to the conflict in Yemen should immediately release anyone arbitrarily detained and to reveal what happened to those who have been forcibly disappeared since the conflict began in late 2014, Human Rights Watch, Mwatana for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said today in a joint statement.

“While the recent release of almost 900 detainees by the Houthis and Saudi Arabia was a significant move by both parties, it is only a start,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Many people remain arbitrary detained or forcibly disappeared, when they should be reunited with their families just like those who were recently released.”

The armed conflict in Yemen began in 2014 but escalated militarily in March 2015, when a Saudi- and UAE-led coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognized government forces against the Houthis, the de facto authorities in Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. Throughout the conflict, all parties have carried out enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

Photo by asamw on Unsplash

Men and women have been targeted for their political and religious beliefs or their membership in a religious or political group. Journalists, other media professionals, aid workers, and human rights defenders have also been targeted. All parties to the conflict have committed grave human rights abuses against women, who are often victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and children, including child recruitment and use by armed groups.

Mwatana for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, and Amnesty International have all documented numerous incidents of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance against civilians by all parties to the conflict in Yemen since 2015 until now.

Despite a lack of evidence of wrongdoing, the warring parties continue to detain and forcibly disappear civilians. Some have been given grossly unfair trials on trumped-up charges and effectively used as bargaining chips in deals to exchange detainees. Many of these individuals have been held incommunicado, tortured, and subjected to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.

The detainees have been accused of bogus charges in violation of their right to fair trial and to liberty and security of person. Moreover, detention centers are often overcrowded and unsanitary, with cells lacking adequate ventilation, toilets, and shower facilities.

The international community should use its influence to pressure the parties to the conflict to put an end to the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of civilians, the groups said.

The organizations are:
Amnesty International
International Federation for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Mwatana for Human Rights

20 Years After Deadly US Attack, Free Press Still Threatened in Iraq Tue, 11 Apr 2023 04:06:22 +0000

Detention, Harassment, Killings Continue

( Human Rights Watch ) – April 8 is a day that lives in infamy for media in Iraq. 20 years ago, two American missiles hit the Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad, killing a reporter and wounding a cameraman. Shortly afterwards, American forces opened fire on the nearby office of Abu Dhabi TV, and a United States tank fired at the Palestine Hotel, a known base for foreign media, killing two cameramen and wounding three journalists.

These attacks prompted accusations that the US was deliberately targeting the media. There was no investigation into the targeting of the Al Jazeera offices, although a US military investigation into the attack on the Palestine hotel cleared US forces of “fault or negligence.”

During the US occupation, a free press remained under threat. US troops frequently detained journalists, some under the justification that they were engaged in or supporting the insurgency via their reporting.

In June 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) issued Order 14, which prohibited media from inciting “violence against any individual or group” or inciting “civil disorder”. The CPA invoked this decree several times to permanently shut down a handful of publications, and temporarily ban others.

Today, the situation is no better. Iraqi authorities view the media as an adversary to be contained and controlled, rather than a vital aspect of Iraqi society. Like Order 14, both Iraqi federal authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government currently abuse vaguely worded laws to bring criminal charges against critics. Authorities are using prosecutions under these laws to intimidate and in some cases silence journalists, activists, and other dissenting voices.

To protect free speech and enable a free press to flourish, Iraqi federal and Kurdistan regional authorities should end intimidation, harassment, arrests, and assaults of journalists and others for exercising their right to free expression. They should investigate credible allegations of threats or attacks by government employees against critics. Finally, authorities should amend laws and penal code articles that limit free speech and muzzle critical reporting. Only when these conditions are met will a free press have the platform it needs to flourish in Iraq.

Via Human Rights Watch