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Human Rights Watch - Defending Human Rights Worldwide


What Do the UK Party Manifestos Say About Human Rights?

Friday, June 2, 2017 - 06:16

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


'Every Year, I Give Birth': Why War is Driving a Contraception Crisis in Sudan

Friday, May 26, 2017 - 10:51

Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory. She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children. Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception. Expand  In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies. © Goran Tomasevic/Reuters It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment. Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people. Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed.  This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception. It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed. Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels h[...]

Military Might Alone Won’t Pull Mali From Quagmire

Friday, May 19, 2017 - 06:06

Expand French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016. © 2016 Reuters “The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April. The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday. Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso. Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.” Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists. However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions. Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said. While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations. The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth. Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption. “The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…” Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedent[...]

Latest Updates on Venezuela's Crisis

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 09:00

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

© Reuters 2017

For a timeline of the most recent events in Venezuela, specifically related to Venezuela’s compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, please click here


The Struggle for LGBT Rights in France

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 05:27

“Today, in France, we still cannot live and love freely just as we are,” said Joël Deumier, president of the association SOS Homophobie. In its annual report published May 10, 2017, the organization stated it received 1,575 testimonies of anti-LGBT acts in 2016, an increase of nearly 20% compared with the previous year. It’s possible that the increase in reported incidents reflects a greater willingness of victims to speak out. Still, SOS Homophobie believes that many victims of anti-LGBT acts do not dare come forward. Expand Demonstration in support of same-sex marriage in Paris, 16 December 2012. © 2012 Olivier Hoffschir In 2016, SOS Homophobie received 26 reports from people who said they had a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic encounter with justice or law enforcement officials. By this is meant that an officer refused to characterize an assault as homophobic in a complaint or to even file a complaint, or that a law enforcement officer himself discriminated against LGBT people. While these incidents remain thankfully limited, they are no less unacceptable. France should take measures to determine how widespread these attitudes are among public officials, and to prevent subversion of their duties because of this attitude. SOS Homophobie’s report also shows a correlation between debates over equal rights and the increase of anti-LGBT acts. The organization recorded a spike in reported incidents in 2013, the year France legalized same-sex marriage. In 2016, France adopted a law waiving the requirement for transgender people to provide proof of medical treatment to amend their legal gender. That same year saw a 76% spike in reported transphobic incidents. While a majority of the French population is in favor of allowing same-sex couples to get married and adopt children, opponents of LGBT rights are a “vocal minority,” and are especially active on social media, where prosecution for homophobic statements remains difficult to carry out. Several candidates for the 2017 presidential election expressed their intention to “rewrite the Taubira law” on same-sex marriage and adoption. One candidate even received the support of Sens commun, an organization openly opposed to the rights of LGBT people. When political figures take stands that are hostile to equal rights, they may “rekindle hate.” It is high time to end discrimination against LGBT people and the French authorities have a key responsibility and role to turn this into reality. [...]

Death by Chemicals

Monday, May 1, 2017 - 10:45

Summary All available evidence strongly suggests that on April 4, 2017, a Syrian government warplane attacked Khan Sheikhoun, a town in the northwestern governorate of Idlib, with a nerve agent, killing at least 92 people, 30 of them children. The death toll likely makes this the deadliest chemical attack since an attack killed hundreds in Ghouta, near Damascus, in August 2013. The Khan Sheikhoun attack sparked international outrage, but the attack on Khan Sheikhoun was not the only recent chemical attack by the Syrian government. Three developments since late 2016 show that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons has become widespread and systematic: Government warplanes appear to have dropped bombs with nerve agents on at least four occasions since December 12, including in Khan Sheikhoun; The government’s use of helicopter-dropped chlorine-filled munitions has become more systematic; Government or pro-government ground-forces have started using improvised ground-launched munitions containing chlorine. In at least some of the attacks, the intention appears to have been to inflict severe suffering on the civilian population, which would amount to crimes against humanity. width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on April 4, 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 92 people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017.  After the chemical attacks in Ghouta, the United Nations Security Council demanded that the Syrian government destroy its chemical stockpiles, weapons, and production capacity. In response, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013. In June 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that it had shipped Syria’s declared chemical weapons out of the country for destruction, though it continued attempting to verify the accuracy and completeness of the Syrian declaration. But in fact, the Syrian government had already been using helicopters to drop improvised munitions filled with chlorine at least since April of that year. While the Chemical Weapons Convention does not ban chlorine because it has many civilian uses, the convention bans its use as a weapon. Yet, between April 2014 and late 2016, Human Rights Watch documented 16 Syrian government attacks with chlorine contained in improvised air-dropped munitions. The number of attacks reported in the media and on social media is much higher. A UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism found enough evidence in three attacks with chlorine in 2014 and 2015 to conclude that the government was responsible. Launch Map Expand Share Human Rights Watch interviewed 60 people with first-hand knowledge of the chemical attacks and their immediate aftermath, and reviewed dozens of photos and videos of impact sites and victims that were posted online and provided directly by local residents, but was unable to conduct ground investigations of the attack sites. Information from local residents in Khan Sheikhoun indicates that a warplane flew over the town twice around 6:45 a.m. on April 4, 2017. One resident said he saw the plane drop a bomb near the town’s central bakery in the northern neighborhood during the first fly-over. [...]

Israel: Human Rights Watch Granted Work Permit

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 02:30

Expand An EL AL Airlines aircraft taxies at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on July 14, 2015.  © 2015 Reuters (Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities on April 26, 2017, granted a work visa to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Human Rights Watch said today. The approval of a one-year work visa reverses a February 20 Interior Ministry decision to deny a work permit to Human Rights Watch. “We welcome this opportunity to work in Israel and Palestine alongside vigorous national human rights organizations,” said Iain Levine, executive deputy director for program at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli authorities do not always agree with our findings, but, in facilitating the ability of our staff to carry out our research and documentation, they have taken an important step to safeguard the principle of transparency and demonstrate their openness to criticism.” Human Rights Watch applied to the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority on July 14, 2016, for a work permit on behalf of Shakir, a United States citizen who is a lawyer by training. The Interior Ministry initially denied the work permit for Shakir, but allowed him to enter the country on tourist visa on March 6, 2017, for a 10-day visit. Related Content Issuance of B/1 Visa for Employment of Foreign National in the Expert Branch In a March 12 letter, which Human Rights Watch received on March 27, the Interior Ministry notified Human Rights Watch that it had granted it permission to employ a foreign expert in Israel. The Interior Ministry accepted the paperwork and payment for Shakir’s work visa under the organization’s work permit on April 20, and Shakir received the visa upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on April 26. Human Rights Watch has had regular access to Israel and the West Bank for nearly three decades, with staff and offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza for much of this period. Human Rights Watch staff have regularly met and corresponded with Israeli government officials. Since 2008, Israel has refused Human Rights Watch access to Gaza, except for one visit in 2016. Human Rights Watch is an independent, international, nongovernmental organization that promotes respect for human rights and international law. It monitors rights violations in more than 90 counties across the world. To carry out its work, Human Rights Watch relies on rigorous research from professional researchers on the ground and regular engagement with government officials, as well as others with first-hand information. Israeli authorities have in recent years limited the space for local and international human rights defenders operating in Israel and Palestine. A law passed by the Knesset in July requires Israeli nonprofit groups that receive more than half their funding, indirectly or directly, from foreign governments to note that information in communications with the public and with government officials. Data from the Population and Immigration Authority obtained by Haaretz via a Freedom of Information Law in February 2017 indicates a ninefold increase in the number of visitors to Israel denied entry over the past five years. In March, the Knesset passed a law barring entry to those who call for or support a boycott of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “Having our country director based in Israel and Palestine will allow us to closely engage Israeli and Palestinian officials, partners, and those directly affected by human rights abuses,” Levine said. “We hope that this decision reflects a larger recommitment by the Israeli government to allow international and domestic rights groups to work freely and to improve access to and from Ga[...]

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),[...]

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 turn[...]