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Human Rights Watch - Defending Human Rights Worldwide


15 Years Behind Bars in Eritrea

Monday, September 19, 2016 - 08:46

This week marks 15 years since Eritrea’s opposition politicians and independent journalists saw freedom. In September 2001, Eritrean security forces arrested 11 government officials, 10 journalists, and numerous other dissidents, all of whom had one thing in common – they had criticized President Isaias Afeworki’s leadership. None of them have been seen since. Expand Eritrean refugees hold placards during a protest against the Eritrean government outside their embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel May 11, 2015. None have been charged with a crime. They have now been held in incommunicado and indefinite detention for fifteen years. They have never been visited by family members. International calls for their release have been wholly ignored. Information from prison guards and others over time has trickled out, suggesting that several have died in captivity. In June, Osman Saleh, Eritrea’s foreign minister gave hope to family members and friends when he stated to Radio France Internationale (RFI) that “they are alive”. Eritrea is one of the worse abusers of human rights in Africa. It has no functioning legislature, no opposition parties, and no independent media. National service, where people are forced to work for the military or in other government positions, is intended to last for 18 months but is often much longer –a decade or more – and harsh, with almost non-existent pay. Arbitrary detention is commonplace, particularly for those who try to evade national service. Many Eritreans report torture in detention. There is no rule of law, and there are restrictions on movement within many parts of Eritrea – for Eritreans and foreigners alike. Thousands of Eritreans flee their country each year to Ethiopia, Sudan, and Europe seeking a better future. In June 2016, a UN Commission of Inquiry determined that abuses committed by the Eritrean regime are likely to constitute crimes against humanity. The Commission of Inquiry report will be presented to the UN General Assembly for consideration on October 27. Over the past two years, the EU and several countries have broken with the isolationist approach historically adopted on Eritrea and opened renewed dialogue and partnerships. On this anniversary of Eritrea’s crackdown, the EU and Eritrea’s other new-found friends should push for information about the whereabouts of those arrested in September 2001. If they are still alive, they should be charged and tried fairly and impartially, or released immediately.  For their family members, information about their well-being and whereabouts is long overdue. And for the Eritrean government, the move would signal they are serious about starting to implement reforms that they have spoken about but not delivered on.  It would be a particularly important signal to give ahead of the UN General Assembly’s debate. [...]

Kenya Is Abandoning Somali Refugees

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 11:11

After 25 years of vicious conflict that has cost countless lives and displaced millions of people, peace has finally broken out in south-central Somalia — at least that's what Kenya says. And the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined Kenya to tell the world it should now focus on helping as many refugees as possible to return home. But I recently spoke with some of the estimated 320,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. And it's clear that peace is the last thing some of those signing up for UNHCR's $400 repatriation cash handout are discovering. Expand A newly arrived Somali refugee is forced out of the queue outside a reception centre in the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, July 28, 2011 © 2011 Reuters A number of refugees told me they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees. One of them is "Amina," a 38-year-old single mother. After a decade in Dadaab, she decided to try her luck and returned in January 2015 with her five children to her village, Bula Gudud, in the Lower Juba region, hoping to rebuild her life. She told me: "After two days back home, fighting broke out between government troops and al-Shabab [armed Islamist group]. I could hear the bullets. My children were so scared. They just ran around, trying to get out of the house." The following day, Amina fled to the closest city, Kismayo. She had no relatives there but hoped she'd find safety and work to feed her children. She found neither. She and her family barely survived for nine months with other displaced civilians in Kismayo's appalling internally displaced persons' camps. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and aid-starved camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab. But her ordeal didn't end there. The Kenyan authorities have refused to re-register her and her children as refugees, and UNHCR has not reactivated her ration card or given her any food. "If we send 1,000 people home under the voluntary repatriation agreement but we then register 1,000 new arrivals, we would not get the job done," a Kenyan government official in Dadaab told me Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the "voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees. It says that both countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home. A few months later UNHCR said that "the security situation in many parts of ... Somalia [is] volatile [and] protracted ... conflict has had devastating consequences, including massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order". But Kenya has repeatedly referred to this agreement as evidence that it is time for all Somalis to go home, stressing that the UN agency should help Kenya "expedite" refugee repatriation. Somali refugees have a collective memory of previous repeated attempts by Kenyan security forces to coerce "voluntary" returns. In late 2012, Kenyan police in Nairobi unleashed appalling abuses in an effort to enforce an illegal directive to drive tens of thousands of urban Somali refugees into the Dadaab camps and from there back to Somalia. In April 2014, Kenyan security forces, primarily police, carried out a second round of abuses against Somalis in Nairobi and then deported 359 a month later without allowing them to challenge their removal. In May 2016, Kenya announced that "hosting refugees has to come to an end", that Somali asylum see[...]

Provide Genuine Refuge to World’s Displaced

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 04:35

Expand Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015. © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch (New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution. Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others. “Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.” This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict. The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said. On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators. Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education. The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent. Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host co[...]

What Olympic Fans Won’t See in Rio de Janeiro

Thursday, August 11, 2016 - 10:57

Residents of Mangueira, a poor neighbourhood atop a hill outside Rio de Janeiro, watched from their rooftops as the Olympics' opening-ceremony fireworks erupted from Maracanã stadium. They don't always have clean water or proper sanitation, but some of Rio's poorest people –residents of "favelas" like Mangueira – enjoy the best views in the city. Expand Residents of the Mangueira favela watch the Olympics’ opening-ceremony fireworks at Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 5, 2016.  © 2016 Tércio Teixeira Only a few years ago it seemed possible that these favelas – once deemed no-go areas – could be toured by Olympic visitors. Thanks largely to a profound change in strategy that also led to a sharp decrease in killings by police, Rio had made real progress in reducing crime. And in its bid to host the Olympics, the Brazilian government vowed that the games would act "as a big catalyst" for long-term security improvements in Rio de Janeiro. For a while, that promise seemed attainable. But in 2013, progress stalled. Homicides bounced back after several years of decline. Soon after, killings by police began to rise again. Last year, Rio police killed 645 people, three-quarters of them black, according to the cops' own figures. What happened? To find out, I just spent six months interviewing more than 30 police officers and dozens of other officials. They speak of an ambitious policing programme that began well but is now crumbling under the weight of impunity and corruption. Expand Policemen patrol the Rocinha Slum in Rio de Janeiro on September 14, 2012. © 2012 Reuters For many decades, Rio de Janeiro has been a city divided between favelas and the more-affluent neighbourhoods that favela residents call the "asphalt," where residents enjoy proper streets, mail delivery, rubbish collection, and all the basic public services that most people in the 21st Century take for granted. Drug gangs armed with automatic weapons control most of Rio´s favelas. Police engage them in military-style raids that often kill suspects and bystanders. While some of these killings have doubtless been in legitimate self-defence, many others have been extrajudicial executions. width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Rio de Janeiro state promised improvements in public security in preparation for the Olympics, but it has not done enough to address extrajudicial executions by police, a central obstacle to more effective law enforcement.  Two police officers – whom I'll call Danilo and João – told me they had taken part in several operations designed to kill, not arrest, suspected gang members. During one of such incidents, an officer approached an injured man who was lying on the ground and shot him dead point-blank, Danilo recollects. In another, João´s unit ambushed suspects, fired at them without warning, and let an injured man bleed out onto the ground for 40 minutes before finally taking him to the hospital, where he died, according to João. He admitted such operations do nothing to dismantle drug organisations. "We go into the favela, kill 20 criminals, and another 20 take their place tomorrow. It´s like trying to dry ice." In 2008, Rio began trying something different. In a few favelas, police established stations focused on community policing, c[...]

After Thousands Dead, UK Foreign Office Steps Back from its Denial of Yemen War Crimes

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 12:44

Over the past 16 months, I have made multiple trips to Yemen to document the devastating, ongoing war where fighters on the ground and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from the air have committed war crimes and other serious violations of the laws of war. Expand People stand around a crater caused by a Saudi-led air strike on the outskirts of Yemen's capital Sanaa, December 29, 2015.  © 2015 Reuters Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have together documented more than 69 unlawful coalition air strikes that killed more than 900 civilians, plus another 19 attacks using internationally banned cluster munitions. After each of these trips, I have flown to Washington DC, London, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, and other capitals to push policymakers to urge Saudi Arabia's allies to help stop the abuses. Of all these meetings, the most frustrating have been those with UK officials. In August last year, after presenting a new Human Rights Watch report that documented 12 unlawful air strikes that killed at least 59 civilians in Yemen, diplomats from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told me that they had read our report with interest, but their analysis differed. Foreign Office officials had looked into each of the incidents we had documented, they said, and in their view the Saudi-led coalition had not committed a single laws of war violation since entering the conflict in March that year. British officials saying they could not confirm our findings would be one thing – their embassy in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, is closed, all their citizens other than a few aid workers had been evacuated, and monitoring events on the ground is extremely difficult. But FCO officials went much further, and said they had assessed the same incidents we had researched and found not a single violation. This was astounding, given the extensive evidence of violations that we, the United Nations, other organisations and the media have documented. Since then, the evidence of unlawful coalition attacks has increased, as has information on the coalition's use of UK bombs and cluster munitions, including weaponry transferred since the war began. The coalition's attacks have killed civilians in homes, markets, hospitals, schools, businesses, and mosques. Only last week did the Foreign Office issue six corrections to ministerial statements made in parliament which asserted that the Saudi-led coalition was not violating the laws of war in Yemen. Now, instead of claiming "there has not been a breach of IHL [international humanitarian law] by the coalition", it claims much more modestly: "[We] have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition." The idea that the Foreign Office has not reached a conclusion on the matter is hard to square with the confident assessment of FCO officials who spoke with us in 2015, claiming that there were no violations. These corrections also fly in the face of testimony government officials gave to the international development select committee earlier this year. As the committee chairman, Stephen Twigg MP, noted: "Only last week in its response to our report, the government insisted that, with regard to the information available to them, they have assessed that the key test on the risk of violations of IHL had not been met." In a letter to the new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, Mr Twigg has now urged the FCO to correct the evidence it submitted to the committee. Based on my conversations with British officials over the past year and a half, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a face-saving exercise to erase the indefensible position that the UK government held while their Saudi allies were using British-manufactured munitions indiscriminately, without adequate regard for civilian life and property, contributing to the deaths of[...]

Asia’s ‘Shoot-to-Kill’ Republic?

Friday, July 22, 2016 - 14:43

Expand The Philippine Daily Inquirer records 265 deaths of suspected criminals and drug users between June 30, the day Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, and July 18. © 2016 Reuters Here’s a snapshot of what a coalition of Philippines human rights groups describe as a “surge of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug offenders". 2.50am July 14: Unidentified drug suspect #43 | San Juan City, Metro Manila | Found dead, hogtied, face wrapped with packaging tape and with eight sachets of suspected shabu [crystal meth] strapped to the body 5.00am July 13: Evangeline Tan, suspected drug user but not on the city’s drug watch list | Dasmariñas City, Cavite | Found dead, body full of stab wounds and hands tied with an electric cord; found on the body was a paper saying, “Wag tularan, tulak ako (Do not imitate, I’m a drug pusher).” Those fatality reports are from the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s twice-weekly “Kill List”, which tallies the killings of suspected drug dealers and users by police and unidentified vigilantes. The “Kill List” records a “marked and unmistakable” rise in such killings amounting to 265 deaths between June 30, the day President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, and July 18. Official statistics support assertions of an alarming increase in police killings of drug-related criminal suspects. Philippines National Police data indicate that police killed at least 192 such criminal suspects between May 10 and July 10. That death toll in the two months following Duterte’s electoral victorydwarfs the 68 killings of suspects that police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15, 2016. Police have attributed the killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers”, but have not provided further evidence that they acted in self-defence. Duterte’s rhetoric The Duterte administration has not put forward any policy proposals on criminal justice or crime control. He has been in office less than one month. But the government’s rhetorical stance on the upsurge in police killings of criminal suspects shows that the disregard Duterte showed for Philippine law and international human rights standards during his campaign has become the presidential reality. He had told his supporters on the election trail: If I make it to the presidential palace … you drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better get out because I’ll kill you. At a pre-election campaign rally he promised a supportive crowd the mass killings of tens of thousands of “criminals”, whose bodies he would dump in Manila Bay. At his inauguration, Duterte identified illegal drugs as one of the country’s top problems and vowed his government’s anti-drug battle “will be relentless and it will be sustained". Now in office, Duterte has praised the killings as proof of the “success” of the anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum“. Against check and balances After calls for a Senate probe of those killings, the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, on July 11 slammed these as “legal harassment” and said it “dampens the morale” of PNP officers. That same day, Duterte’s top judicial official, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, defended the legality of the killings and opined that the number of such deaths was “not enough". The PNP will soon make it easier for Calida to track the number of those killings. On July 18 it announced plans to erect outside the PNP’s Manila headquarters a large electronic billboard that will provide an updated tally of drug suspects either arrested or “neutralised” by police. Complicit in serious crimes Official statements calling for what is effectively the extrajudic[...]

Boxed In

Saturday, July 16, 2016 - 23:55

Summary We all have to live in the borders of the boxes our dads or husbands draw for us. —Zahra, 25-year-old Saudi woman, April 7, 2016 It can mess with your head and the way you look at yourself. How do you respect yourself or how [can] your family respect you, if he is your legal guardian? —Hayat, 44-year-old former school principal, December 7, 2015 In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. As dozens of Saudi women told Human Rights Watch, the male guardianship system is the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors who cannot make key decisions for themselves. Rania, a 34-year-old Saudi woman, said, “We are entrusted with raising the next generation but you can’t trust us with ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense.” Every Saudi woman, regardless of her economic or social class, is adversely affected by guardianship policies. width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country despite limited reforms over the last decade. Adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, marry, or exit prison. They may be required to provide guardian consent in order to work or access healthcare. Women regularly face difficulty conducting a range of transactions without a male relative, from renting an apartment to filing legal claims. The impact these restrictive policies have on a woman’s ability to pursue a career or make life decisions varies, but is largely dependent on the good will of her male guardian. In some cases, men use the authority that the male guardianship system grants them to extort female dependents. Guardians have conditioned their consent for women to work or to travel on her paying him large sums of money. width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country despite limited reforms over the last decade.  Women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia have repeatedly called on the government to abolish the male guardianship system, which the government agreed to do in 2009 and again in 2013 after its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Following both hearings, Saudi Arabia took limited steps to reform certain aspects of the guardianship system. But, these changes remain insufficient, incomplete, and ineffective; today, the guardianship system remains mostly intact. width="640" height="360" src="//[...]

Afghanistan: Hazardous Work for Children Widespread

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - 00:05

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. Expand Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work.  © 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school.  “Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.” width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.  The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected. In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions. A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.” July 13, 2016 Report “They Bear All the Pain” Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan Download the full report Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing[...]

What Brexit Means for Human Rights

Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:28

As every parent knows, children are prone to telling it like it is, unvarnished and unfiltered by adult rationalisation. So when children worry about their future, worry about their parents being deported, worry that they have suddenly become strangers in their own country, then so should we. Expand A British flag flutters in front of a window in London on June 24, 2016, after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU BREXIT referendum.  © 2016 Reuters The EU referendum vote may have far reaching consequences for how the UK is governed and the protections those who live here enjoy. Those are important and deserve attention. But what concerns me most right now is that our children's fears are real. A Pandora's Box of hate has been opened in the country, putting our shared values at risk. The evidence is impossible to ignore. The Met police confirm a 50% increase in reported hate crimes in London since the referendum. The national police website for hate crime has recorded a 42% rise in incidents in the last two weeks of June compared to the same period in 2015. A survey found that 12% of Polish people living in the UK have experienced hostile behaviour following the EU referendum vote. The media is full of reports of people subjected to verbal abuse or worse, because of their perceived foreignness, including an arson attack. And the leader of the union of head teachers has warned that children from European backgrounds are worried they may be forced to leave the UK. To their credit, the authorities seem to be taking the issue seriously. The prime minister condemned the wave of hate crimes as "despicable" and said they must be stamped out. The mayor of London has spoken of a "zero tolerance approach to any attempt to hurt and divide our communities." The Met Police and other forces also seem to be responding diligently, with the commissioner telling the London Assembly this week that arrest rates for hate crimes in the capital are up 75% since the referendum. These efforts must be continued and redoubled so that no-one is in any doubt that hate crimes are, and will always be, unacceptable acts with no place in our society. The upsurge in xenophobia is a stark reminder that the human rights framework—protecting human dignity and ensuring equal treatment—is a compass in times of crisis. That is by design. Forged in the ashes of the Second World War, the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights understood that "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind" and that the best bulwark against them in future is human rights "protected by the rule of law". The UK leaving the European Union could put some protection of important rights at risk: there is a danger that labour rights and protections against discrimination in UK law, which are underpinned by EU rules, could be watered down by parliament in future. That must be guarded against. The UK will still be bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), inspired by Winston Churchill and mostly written by a UK Conservative politician, David Maxwell Fyfe. This is protected by the European Court of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act, which incorporates it into domestic law and allows courts in the UK to make sure local authorities and central government act in ways that protect people's rights. The Human Rights Act has made a huge contribution to improving people's lives in the UK, despite being smeared in the media and blamed by politicians for unpopular decisions. In its 2015 election manifesto however, the Conservative party vowed to replace it with a British Bill of Rights, although it is yet to publish any such p[...]

Chilcot Report: We Need to See Senior Figures Held Criminally Responsible for Iraq War Crimes

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - 09:06

Sir John Chilcot's report on lessons to be learned from the 2003 invasion of Iraq has taken seven years to produce. David Cameron has said it should not be about "punishing" British soldiers, but holding senior people to account. However, 13 years of numerous inquiries and criminal investigations into alleged war crimes by UK military personnel in Iraq have so far produced little in terms of criminal accountability, especially for senior military and political figures. Expand The mother and son of Baha Mousa hold pictures of him at their house in Basra on September 7, 2011. © 2011 Reuters Now that Chilcot's report is out there will be many calls to put senior people on trial for 'war crimes' – including at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. But the ICC is not in a position to do this concerning the actual decision to invade Iraq. The court does not have the authority – yet - to prosecute people for the crime of 'aggression', such as the unlawful military invasion of another country. But the ICC, which the UK helped establish, does have jurisdiction over 'war crimes' committed during a conflict or military occupation itself. While the ICC is designed to be a court of last resort, its prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has opened a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes by UK nationals in Iraq. Bensouda's office will consider whether the gravity of war crimes — provided there is evidence for them —warrant its involvement and, crucially, whether the UK authorities are willing and able to properly investigate and prosecute war crimes themselves. Allegations of war crimes by some UK soldiers quickly surfaced after the invasion, but more than a decade on we are little advanced in knowing the whole truth about these claims, let alone in seeing anyone put on trial. Two public inquiries into specific incidents were forced on reluctant British governments by UK courts. The first, in 2011, found that Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, had died in British custody in Basra in 2003 after suffering at least 93 injuries over two days of abuse, including food and water deprivation. The second, the Al Sweady inquiry in 2014, dismissed allegations of deliberate murder of detainees in a 2004 incident, but still found that UK interrogators had committed serious abuses against Iraqis – including deprivation of food and sleep and sight – that have all previously been found to constitute torture. Hundreds more allegations of abuse of detainees by UK nationals have been submitted to various courts, including the ICC. So far, many of these allegations have not been properly investigated. It seems the only UK conviction for war crimes in Iraq is of Corporal Donald Payne, who received a one-year prison sentence in 2006 after pleading guilty to the war crime of inhumane treatment in connection with the death of Baha Mousa. In 2010 the government set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team to conduct criminal investigations into alleged war crimes, but six years on there are still no new prosecutions. The findings of serious abuses in the Baha Mousa and Al Sweady inquiries did not result in new prosecutions. UK authorities have also shown little interest in investigating whether senior military and political figures are criminally liable for any war crimes. This is despite a powerful new law of 'command responsibility' enacted in UK law in 2002, which states that military and civilian commanders should be held criminally liable for war crimes committed by people within their chain of command when they knew, or should have known, of the crimes but failed to take necessary measures to prevent them or ensure they were investigated. For c[...]