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Human Rights Watch - Defending Human Rights Worldwide


Let's Rise Up For Our Rights!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 09:00

By Bénédicte Jeannerod, France Director at Human Rights Watch and Camille Blanc, President of Amnesty International France. Published on Mediapart's website (in French) Human Rights principles were proclaimed universal almost 70 years ago. They were articulated after a period of barbarity and contempt for human dignity caused by a lack of understanding of the critical importance of these rights. But we are seeing the most virulent attack on these principles in decades. In France, speeches and proposals for emergency measures based on fear, intolerance, and stigmatization have been at the forefront of the presidential campaign. The disastrous logic behind these ideas has contaminated the political discussion. Even if candidates espousing these views do not win the election, which no one is in a position to predict conclusively, these ideas are settling into our political landscape. We are concerned about the strength of the dikes protecting the rule of law and our democracy and of respect for the basic principles of human rights. Yes, we are afraid for the founding values of this country, which have been undermined and sometimes are even preempted by disturbing trends that we observe in Europe and in the world. Expressions of xenophobia and hatred, which many leaders around the world have promoted, thrive on the feeling of insecurity in the face of terrorist attacks, unemployment, the crisis around welcoming refugees, and the perception of a dilution of national identity due to globalization. Demagogues play on the legitimate concerns of a section of the population to free themselves from the fundamental principles of the rule of law, which protect every human being. Instead they are promoting a double standard for protecting these rights, a contempt for justice, and a rejection of institutions that provide checks and balances on their power. Hammered like a mantra and ignoring the facts, this rhetoric unfortunately seems to find a loud echo in a part of French society. In the name of fighting terrorism, an elementary truth has been forgotten: that human rights were not invented by dreamers of beautiful and great principles. They are instead an essential condition to allow each and every one of us to live in safety, protected from arbitrary decisions to restrict our rights. They were acquired through social struggles and revolutions, and learned from the experience of previous generations. To be safe, we do not need fewer rights; instead, we must fight to ensure that all rights are effective for everyone. In the face of a world that is disoriented and upset, wouldn’t the worst option be to give in to fear? To renounce the essential principles that guide us and let them be trampled? Should we not, on the contrary, reject without concession xenophobia and discrimination and preserve the understanding that the capacity for empathy defines our humanity? Should we not defend a strong and independent justice, and fiercely free and meticulous media in the search for the facts? The situation is serious, but we refuse to see it as fatal. It is up to all of us working together to mobilize for the upcoming election and beyond, to show how much these principles matter to us and that they cannot be dissolved based on the fears of the moment. Whichever candidate wins, we will be there to constantly remind the future President of the Republic of the principles for which they are the guardian and whose effective implementation they will have to ensure. These "human rights" are, above all, our own, so let us rise to demand them, defend them, protect them! *** This call by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International France is supported by Robert Badinter (former Justice Minister), Tahar Ben Jelloun (writer), William Bourdon (lawyer), Clotilde Courau (actress), C215 (street artist), Mireille Delmas-Marty (professor emeritus at Collège de France), Dan Franck (writer), Costa Gavras (filmmaker), Emily Loizeau (singer), François Morel (actor), Franck Pavloff (writer), Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber (journalist), Lambert Wilson (actor).   [...]

Latest Updates on Venezuela's Crisis

Monday, April 17, 2017 - 09:00

So much has happened in the last few weeks that we thought it would be useful to kick off this blog with a summary of where the discussion about Venezuela’s compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter stands. The most recent events underscore the lack of judicial independence and separation of powers in Venezuela, and the government’s determination to shut down discussion of the crisis, making growing international pressure on the Maduro administration as important as ever to restore human rights and rule of law.

France Should Confront China on Rights

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 11:14

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will arrive in China tomorrow for what will be his last official visit in this country. But he can make it much more than that: it’s an opportunity to publicly express his concern about the serious attack on human rights in China, and make it clear that France stands in solidarity with China’s courageous activists, whose space is constantly being narrowed by government repression. Expand Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and President Xi Jinping meet in Beijing, China. © 2013 Reuters Under the presidency of Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013, the Chinese government has drastically restricted basic rights. Persecution of political activists and human rights defenders has seen hundreds of lawyers and activists jailed, with many receiving long prison terms. Among them is Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has been in prison for more than eight years. Barring rare symbolic actions, including the recent presentation of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law to Wang Qiaoling, wife of detained human rights lawyer Li Heping, France has been nearly silent on the Chinese government’s crackdown. France’s reticence, spurred in large part by commercial interests, stands in stark contrast to Ayrault’s recent speech on the importance of human rights in French diplomacy. “Fundamental rights and their universality are at the very heart of our identity, and therefore of our policies,” he said. “France’s determination to defend them everywhere… does not go against our interests.… [I]t contributes, in fact, to the promotion of our interests. Because these values are not unrealistic fantasies. They are principles of action.” A strong declaration, certainly, but a meaningless one if not translated into action. In Beijing, Ayrault should publicly call on the Chinese authorities to stop curtailing free expression rights of activists, release all political prisoners, and end the use of the death penalty. This would show that France’s diplomatic and economic relations cannot come at the expense of its stated principles and that, on the contrary, these principles are a vital component of France’s relations with China. [...]

France: the Human Rights Implications of the Presidential Campaign

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 06:27

#UrgenceDroitsHumains 11 questions to the candidates for human rights to be at the heart of the presidential campaign. Learn more (in French) Human Rights Watch has sent 11 key questions about human rights that France’s next president will face to all candidates for the May 2017 presidential election. We explain here the implications of each of them, and why it is essential that the candidates address them.    Ethnic profiling in identity checks Our question Will you undertake a reform of identity checks and introduce systematic recording of police stops, to fight ethnic profiling by police forces in France? The implications The Constitutional Council, France’s highest jurisdiction, ruled that police identity checks must be “based exclusively on criteria that exclude discrimination of any kind.” Young men perceived as black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped than the rest of the population. However, many studies, including by Human Rights Watch, show that the police practice ethnic profiling, conducting identity checks based on appearance, in particular ethnicity, rather than on signs of illegal activity. According to the French Ombudsman,  abusive and discriminatory identity checks target young men perceived as black or Arab in particular, who are 20 times more likely to be stopped than the rest of the population. This discriminatory practice is facilitated by insufficient legislation to define objective criteria for identity checks, and by the difficult of ensuring that identity check operations are transparent and can be effectively monitored. A simple and effective measure to reduce ethnic profiling would be to require police officers to issue a receipt every time they carry out an identity check to explain its legal basis and establish a written record. Human Rights Watch is part of a collective platform of NGOs and associations, En finir avec les contrôles au faciès (“Put an end to ethnic profiling”), and, together with its partners, conducts advocacy and communication campaigns on this topic.    To learn more about Human Rights Watch work on this topic: - An op-ed calling on public authorities to take corrective measures following violence suffered by a young black man during a police stop, February 2017. - The conclusions of an investigative report on police ethnic profiling, January 2012. - An op-ed following the condemnation of ethnic profiling by the French Ombudsman, the Paris Court of Appeals, the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Council, in French,  January 2017. - A video on the impact of ethnic profiling in police checks, September 2013.   Counterterrorism Our question What strategy will you implement to lead France out of the state of emergency in place since November 2015, and ensure respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law while combating terrorism? The implications The state of emergency declared in November 2015 and extended without interruption since has made France an exception in Europe. Neither Spain nor the United Kingdom nor Belgium imposed states of emergency following major attacks. In France, successive extensions of the state of emergency have progressively turned the exception into the norm, gravely eroding the rule of law. The state of emergency gives broad powers to the police and the prefects, supervised by the Interior Ministry. It also diminishes judicial oversight and allows the government to restrict certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of movement, of expression, and of association. Successive extensions of the state of emergency have progressively turned the exception into the norm, gravely eroding the rule of law. The absence of judicial oversight has led to human rights abuses during counterterrorism[...]

Protecting Schools from Military Use

Monday, March 20, 2017 - 00:01

Introduction This report collects recent and historic examples of laws, court decisions, military orders, policies, and practice by governments, armed forces, non-state armed groups, and courts aimed at protecting schools and universities from use for military purposes. The examples in this report of law, policy, and doctrine protecting schools and universities from military use should encourage more governments and non-state groups to adopt their own concrete measures to protect students, educators, and the institutions in which they study. width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Since 2007, the military use of schools or universities has been documented in at least 29 countries with armed conflict or insecurity. Since 2007, the military use of schools or universities has been documented in at least 29 countries with armed conflict or insecurity, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, of which Human Rights Watch is a member. That number represents the majority of countries experiencing armed conflict during the past decade. Examples can be found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The military use of schools is therefore a global problem, needing international attention and response. Schools and universities have been taken over either partially or entirely to be converted into military bases and barracks; used as detention and interrogation facilities; for training fighters; and to store or hide weapons and ammunition. Human Rights Watch has investigated the military use of schools in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, and Yemen. Further information on our research can be found in the annex of this report. Our research has documented how the use of schools for military purposes endangers students’ and teachers’ safety, and can interfere with students’ right to education. *** Protections for education from military interference date back at least to Roman times when Emperor Constantine proclaimed that all professors of literature must be free from the obligation to accommodate or quarter soldiers in order that “they may more easily train many persons in the liberal arts.” For more on historical protections, see chapter 3. 1935: The Roerich Pact between various countries in the Americas states that educational institutions “shall be considered as neutral and as such respected and protected by belligerents.” 1948: The United Nations General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, consisting of 30 articles, including that “everyone has the right to an education.” In the following decades, various international and regional treaties and declarations repeat and elaborate on this core right. 1949: The Fourth Geneva Convention lays out protections for civilians during armed conflict, including that    an occupying power—a military force controlling the territory of another country—“shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which promotes respect for international humanitarian law and its implementation in national law, has elaborated that this requirement is “very general in scope,” and that occupying authorities “are bound not only to avoid interfering with [the] activities [of schools], b[...]

France: Put Rights at Heart of Presidential Campaign

Friday, March 17, 2017 - 03:00

(Paris) – Human Rights Watch has sent 11 key questions about human rights that France’s next president will face to all candidates for the May 2017 presidential election. At a time when universal human rights and the principles of the rule of law are under attack around the world, including in France and other European countries, this initiative aims to encourage candidates to make their positions and policies known to voters on crucial issues. #UrgenceDroitsHumains 11 questions to the candidates for human rights to be at the heart of the presidential campaign. Learn more (in French) Human rights issues have been virtually invisible in the French presidential campaign, but are essential for the country’s future, both in terms of national policy and diplomacy, Human Rights Watch said. “The next president of the French Republic will need to be a guardian of the founding values of democracy and the rule of law, for everyone living on French territory and for France’s relations with other countries,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “French voters deserve to know whether those who seek the nation’s highest office are committed to those values and how they intend to defend them.” The questionnaire is divided into four subthemes: human rights in France, Europe, and the rest of the world, and international justice. The first theme covers the protection of fundamental rights and individual freedoms in France while combatting terrorism; the need to tackle racially biased police identity checks; and the protection of the right to asylum. The second addresses France’s role in defending human rights and the rule of law in Europe. The third section addresses the conflict in Syria; the place of human rights in France’s relations with Russia, the United States, and China; the sales of French arms to Saudi Arabia in the context of violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen; and external military interventions of France in the Sahel region. The final section addresses the fight against impunity and international justice. The answers should help give voters a sense of the candidates’ commitment to preserve human rights in their national and international policies, Human Rights Watch said. These commitments will be especially important in a global context of rising nationalism and xenophobia, repression of nongovernmental groups, and large-scale abuses in conflict areas. Related Content Questions to the French presidential candidates The topics covered in the questionnaire are at the heart of Human Rights Watch’s work. The questions are published on a dedicated page (in French) and sent to the candidates through social media via the #UrgenceDroitsHumains (#HumanRightsEmergency) campaign. Candidates’ responses will be made public before the first round of the presidential election.     Here are the 11 questions that Human Rights Watch asked the candidates: When you are president, Will you defend universal human rights values in your national and international policies, in a context of xenophobia, rejection of foreigners and rise of national extremism? In France 1.     Identity checks and police violence  Will you undertake a reform of identity checks and introduce systematic recording of police stops, to fight ethnic profiling by police forces in France? 2.     Counterterrorism What strategy will you implement to lead France out of the state of emergency in place since November 2015, and to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law while combating terrorism? 3. [...]

France Should Face up to Azerbaijan’s Rights Record

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 - 06:19

In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole. Expand Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014. © 2014 Reuters Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku? In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate. One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived. Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered. When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment. Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society. President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics. Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars. [...]

Breaking France’s Addiction to its State of Emergency

Monday, March 13, 2017 - 06:01

Like an addict, France does not know how to quit its state of emergency even though it has become clear that maintaining it erodes the rule of law and fosters human rights abuses while not keeping the country safer. The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose. Expand French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) secure a street they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension. His fellow commission member, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, from the main opposition party Les Republicains, noted that “time that passes erodes the efficiency and nature of the state of emergency.” A French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks had already concluded back in July 2016 that  the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.” Human Rights Watch’s own research has found repeated abuses against ordinary people during policing operations under emergency powers. So why is France maintaining the state of emergency despite repeated warnings by its own oversight mechanisms? It is mainly due to confusion by politicians about the purpose of a state of emergency. Many have said that it is justified by an ongoing terrorist risk. This was clearly displayed in December 2016 when Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux justified his request for a fifth extension by saying that “the terrorist threat was at its highest.” Under this reasoning, a state of emergency is needed as long as there is a high security risk. This reasoning is dangerous on many levels. By suggesting that regular laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to counter threats, it weakens the premise of the rule of law and relegates it to a luxury for “normal” times. But it also sets the stage for the trap in which France finds itself. French leaders have implied that they will only lift the state of emergency when the security risk has subsided but since they can’t predict the risk of future terrorist attacks, they prefer to maintain it rather than pay a political price if a subsequent attack takes place. So lifting the state of emergency becomes less dependent on security considerations and more on political calculations. This would explain why France’s latest extension was driven by the electoral calendar, punting the issue to the next president and legislature. Call it political procrastination, or perhaps more aptly, political cowardice. This disconnect between its initial purpose and current raison d’être was captured nicely by Sébastien Pietrasanta, a parliamentarian and rapporteur for the commission investigating the state’s response to the November 2015 attacks, who recently noted that “the effect of the state of emergency is fading and yet we extend it…even though the link with terrorism is quite tenuous.” I have seen this logic at play in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria, countries I have worked on for years, maintained their states of emergency for 31 and 48 years respectively. Every time the state of emergency was up for renewal, the country’s rulers argued that the risk was still there or that the timing was not right to lift it. France is not a tin-pot autocracy and its rulers are not despots, but there is a cautionary tale in these experiences. It is time to reframe the debate in France. A contin[...]

Iraq: Displacement, Detention of Suspected “ISIS Families”

Sunday, March 5, 2017 - 00:00

(Erbil) – Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad al-Asha'ri), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities. The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes. “While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.” width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).  In August 2016, the Salah al-Din governorate council passed a decree stating that anyone proven to have been complicit or affiliated with ISIS has no right to return to the governorate. The decree also orders the expulsion of immediate relatives of ISIS-members from Salah al-Din for 10 years to life, and says that they are only allowed to return if they are deemed “safe.” The decree establishes a committee to seize ISIS-affiliates’ property and suspend their, and their families,’ provision cards. Families that kill their ISIS-affiliated relatives, or hand them over to the Iraqi authorities, are exempted. One woman from al-Shakrah village, three kilometers south of al-Shirqat, said that PMF fighters forced her and her relatives from their home on January 7, 2017, because her husband’s brother had joined ISIS. She said that the fighters “forced our whole family of 14 people out and onto the truck. They didn’t let us grab even a change of clothing.” Two women from the village of al-Aithah said that local PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes with explosives after they retook the area on September 21, targeting not only some of the families they thought to be affiliated with ISIS, but also some families that had fled because of the fighting. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that between September 23 and October 23, 220 homes in the village were destroyed by explosives and fire. View All Share Satellite imagery shows the village of al-Aithah, outside Tikrit, Iraq, before and after the destruction caused by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).  Before: © 2017 DigitalGlobe After: © 2017 DigitalGlobe Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict may only attack military objectives. The intentional or wanton destruction of civilian property is unlawful unless the property is being used for a military purpose. Destroying property mere[...]

Urgent Action Needed on Ethnic Profiling in Police Checks in France

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 09:01

Almost a month later, the shock and indignation over the brutal violence suffered by a young Black man named Théo at the hands of policemen during an identity check in Aulnay-sous-Bois have not died down. Four policemen have been charged: three of them with assault, the fourth with rape. Expand Police officers perform an identity check and body pat-down of a young man in Paris, France on June 6, 2011. © 2011 Ludovic/Rea/Redux The incident has encouraged other victims of police abuse to come forward and share their experience with the media. It has also drawn attention to an ongoing trial about police violence against another young man, Alexandre, during a police stop in Drancy in 2015. On February 20, the Bobigny Correctional Tribunal asked for the case to be tried in Assize criminal court and for the policeman on trial to be charged with rape rather than aggravated assault. The Bobigny Public Prosecutor’s office opposed revising the charges: the Appeals court of Paris must now rule on the proceedings. The violence against Théo, who lives in the Paris suburbs, has revived the debate on police identity checks that are carried out in a discriminatory and abusive manner against a part of the population. This is not a new phenomenon – it has been extensively documented. For decades, it has been damaging the trust between French youth and the authorities. In 2009, the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Open Society jointly carried out the first scientific study on ethnic profiling by French law enforcement. In 2012, Human Rights Watch showed, in its own investigation, the extent to which recurrent and abusive identity checks targeting minority youth were a significant source of humiliation. In November 2016, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) concluded in an opinion that “a body of concurring studies has brought to light the overrepresentation in police stops of young men belonging to visible minorities.” On January 20, 2017, a few days before the assault on Théo, the French Ombudsman once again drew attention to this pervasive phenomenon. His conclusions are enlightening: men between the ages of 18 and 25 who are perceived as black or Arab-North African are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police than members of the general population. In their case, more than in others, stops are characterized by insults, the use of “tu” (a familiar form of address) and brutality. In a country where equality is one of the three pillars of the Republic, a part of the population feels discriminated against and excluded from society. To do nothing in the face of such a situation is disgraceful and counterproductive. At a time when the issue of security is on everyone’s mind, all citizens, without exception, should be able to feel that police officers are there to keep them safe. For many years, French activists, outraged by this situation, have protested the discriminatory practices of some policemen. Politicians and policymakers should listen to these calls and take action at last, instead of falling back on declarations or symbolic gestures – like President Francois Hollande’s visit to Théo in the hospital. It shouldn’t require a tragedy to reopen the debate on a practice that is perceived as a routine occurrence for so many young men. Tragedies such as the deaths of Zyed and Bouna in 2005, electrocuted as they fled a police stop and hid in an electrical transformer, the death in July 2016 of Adama Traoré as he was taken into police custody, or the alleged rapes of Théo and Alexandre. Yanis, an 18-year old resident of Bobigny, explains it this way: “Théo isn’t one case too many, becaus[...]