In response to the findings that the NGO Global Witness published today in its annual report, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International said:
“Latin America remains the world’s most dangerous region for human rights defenders who work on land and environmental issues. The number of killings rose to unprecedented levels last year, with Brazil recording the worst figures of any country in history. The situation in Mexico has also deteriorated drastically, with criminal gangs taking advantage of the failure of the state to effectively protect rural communities.
“Amnesty International has also identified Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Paraguay as countries that are particularly dangerous for environmental human rights defenders. Aside from killings, they also face many other forms of attacks and harassment, including death threats and criminalization through the misuse of the justice system.
“Standing up to powerful actors to protect your land or the environment should not mean having to put your life on the line. But with corruption, impunity and repression fueling much of the violence across the region, the authorities must take immediate and effective measures to protect human rights defenders, many of whom are dedicated to Indigenous rights, and guarantee that their communities are genuinely consulted about any projects that will affect them.”
Published on AI on July 24, 2018
By Vanita Suneja
In 2030, when I would be turning sixty, I’d like to tell my grandchildren the story of how – once upon a time – the lives of poor people in South Asia were transformed: that leaders came together to bring economic prosperity and social development to people that until then had lived in an unequal and polluted world.
What I am more likely to tell them, is how – even with the knowledge that nearly 800 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – governments failed to act and people remain locked in a cycle of ill-health and poverty.
Ending the cycle of poverty absolutely by 2030, without leaving behind a single person, is the most ambitious promise made to date by world leaders in 2015 when they adopted the sustainable development goals: which included the provision of universal access to water and sanitation that is essential for achieving significant progress in health, education and equality.
When people have access to clean water and decent sanitation, their wellbeing increases: women and girls have time to go to school because they don’t have to fetch water for their families – this responsibility often falls on the female members or a family, and with better health comes increased productivity both in school and at work.
For every £1 invested in WASH at least £4 is returned in increased productivity, primarily based on improved health and more time to work or study.
With floods and droughts affecting the region at different times of the year, it is important that climate-resilient services are set up. This includes managing resources responsibly and minimising the effects of climate change.
Governments in South Asia have taken steps in the right direction. Nepal has taken a rights-based approach to water, sanitation and hygiene in its constitution, which sets the bar for accountability at the highest political level. The constitution states peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment as well as the right to access to safe water and sanitation.
Through its Clean India Mission, an incredible story emerges from India, where considerable progress has been made on sanitation. The Indian government aims to ensure that the entire population will have access to a decent toilet by 2019, so that nobody has to go in the open after that.
Bangladesh has shown the way on inclusion, having achieved the Open Defecation Free status before 2015. The government of Bangladesh has since adopted an inclusive approach to water as well, and is working to connect all those living in makeshift houses in the capital’s slums to a piped network.
Despite this progress, South Asia faces daunting challenges. Governments, donors and the private sector must be held accountable if they are not doing enough. While 88 percent of South Asia’s population has access to at least basic water, still more than half the population of South Asia lacks access to even basic sanitation.
Disparities are large between cities and rural areas: while 5.6 percent of the urban population in South Asian nations defecate in the open – having no other option as no decent sanitation is available to them – yet in rural areas, this is as high as 45 percent.
For all nations to deliver on their commitment to provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, governments need to prioritise WASH – the NGO term for water, sanitation and hygiene – and ensure that finances are directed towards achieving those goals.
Sanitation, water and hygiene have a bearing on health, education, nutrition, equality and poverty eradication. WASH is thus crucial to breaking the cycle of ill-health and poverty in which too many people still live today.
An important part of the promise to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere, is to leave no one behind. This requires renewed focus on addressing the equity challenge.
The private sector and civil society groups have an important role to play in partnering with the government to reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations.
This week, world leaders are coming together at the United Nations in New York to discuss the progress made on sustainable development goal 6 – to provide universal access to clean water and decent sanitation.
This is an important moment to highlight the urgency of having clean drinking water and a proper toilet, and to ensure that the lives of people in South Asia and beyond will be transformed within a generation.
Published on IPS on July 16, 2018
“We are Like the Dead”Torture and other Human Rights Abuses in Jail Ogaden, Somali Regional State, Ethiopia
In the heart of the eastern city of Jijiga, just five minutes from the University, lies one of the most notorious detention centers in Ethiopia. Jail Ogaden, officially known as Jijiga Central Prison, is home to thousands of prisoners, who are brutalized and neglected. Many have never been charged or convicted of any crime.
Former prisoners described a horrific reality of constant abuse and torture, with no access to adequate medical care, family, lawyers, or even, at times, food. Officials stripped naked and beat prisoners and forced them to perform humiliating acts in front of the entire prison population, as punishment and to instill shame and fear. In overcrowded cells, head prisoners, called kabbas, beat and harassed prisoners at night during interrogations, passing notes on to prison leaders who then chose some for further punishment. The purpose of the torture and humiliation was to coerce prisoners to “confess” to membership in the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a banned opposition group.
This report, based on almost 100 interviews, including 70 former prisoners of Jail Ogaden, documents torture and other serious abuses, including rape, long term arbitrary detention, and horrific detention conditions in Jail Ogaden in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State (Somali Region) between 2011 and early 2018. Interviewees also included government officials and members of Somali Region security forces.
Many of the former prisoners interviewed said they saw people dying in their cells after being tortured by officials. Female former prisoners told of rape. Prison guards and the notorious Liyu police [“special” police in Amharic], brutalized prisoners, at the behest of regional authorities. The prison is subject to almost no meaningful scrutiny or oversight.
The cycle of torture, humiliating treatment, overcrowding, inadequate food, sleep deprivation, and lack of health care in Jail Ogaden is consistent with the government’s long-standing collective punishment of people who are perceived to support the ONLF. Human Rights Watch has previously documented how the Ethiopian army committed crimes against humanity and war crimes during counter insurgency operations against the ONLF in 2007 and 2008, including extrajudicial executions, torture and rape.
Rather than meaningfully investigate the crimes at that time, the Ethiopian government established the Liyu police who have committed a range of serious abuses in Somali Region since 2008. The Liyu police report to the Somali Region president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, known as Abdi Illey.
In Jail Ogaden, disease is rampant, basic water and sanitation needs are systematically ignored, while prisoners report deaths in detention following the outbreak of infectious disease. Some former prisoners told Human Rights Watch that corpses sometimes remained in prisoners’ cells for several days.
Female prisoners gave birth in their cells without access to skilled birth attendants, often in grossly unhygienic conditions. The plight of children, some allegedly born in Jail Ogaden from rape by prison guards, is especially tragic. Former prisoners said that lactating mothers received no extra food, and that children received no education. Since 2013, prisoners have reportedly not been permitted any visitors, or to receive food or other goods from relatives.
Release of prisoners is often ad hoc and the length of prisoners’ sentences, when they have one, may have little bearing on when they are actually released.
Former prisoners said that senior Somali politicians including Abdi Illey and Somali Region head of security and head of the Liyu police Abdirahman Labagole appeared regularly at the prison to speak to the prison population. Many of the worst abusers have been the prison heads of Jail Ogaden. Not only do some of these officials appear to have ordered torture, rape and denial of food, but in some cases, former prisoners alleged that they were personally involved in committing rape and acts of torture.
In 2011, Somali Region officials carried out an 11-day evaluation of prison guard performance which corroborated many of patterns of abuse former prisoners described to Human Rights Watch. The evaluation was filmed at the request of Abdi Illey, and then shared with Human Rights Watch several years later when an advisor to Abdi Illey left Ethiopia. On film, guards detail torturing, raping, and extorting money from prisoners, and describe how various senior officials at Jail Ogaden directed them to engage in torture and rape.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a federal government body mandated to carry out investigations into allegations of human rights abuse, has inspected Jail Ogaden on many occasions since 2011, but there are no publicly available reports on those visits. It is not clear what actions, if any, were taken to hold anyone accountable for abuses uncovered during those inspections. Many former prisoners told Human Rights Watch that they had been prepped by prison officials on what to say and what not to say to the Commission. The most visibly injured, along with children and pregnant women, were reportedly held in secret rooms or moved out of the prison ahead of Commission visits.
Those who spoke openly to Commission officials were brutally beaten, sometimes to death, in the days after the visits. The EHRC did not respond to our letter requesting information about their work to address abuses in Jail Ogaden.
Ethiopia’s federal system gives considerable autonomy to its regions, including the Somali Region, to carry out many governance functions. Regional detention facilities in Somali Region have little federal oversight and the regional government has neither the will nor capacity to monitor detention conditions.
Very few of the former prisoners we interviewed said they had ever been to court or been charged with any crime. Even when prisoners did appear in court, most did not have access to defense lawyers, could not present an adequate defense, and were confronted with courts that lack independence and are reluctant to challenge government abuses. This all leaves prisoners in Jail Ogaden with virtually no channels for redress.
Torture and impunity for torture are well-entrenched problems throughout Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch regularly receives reports of abusive interrogations countrywide using techniques such as severe beatings and water and genital torture, similar to what Jail Ogaden’s former prisoners describe. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, there have been no reported instances of the federal government holding anyone accountable for torture, and prisoners’ complaints of torture in detention are routinely ignored by the courts.
The Ethiopian government’s response to requests for investigation into alleged rights abuses is to state that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) can carry out such investigations, but EHRC investigations have generally not met the most basic standards of impartiality. There is little transparency around its work. The government has repeatedly rejected calls for independent international investigations into abuses and has ignored repeated requests from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and eight other UN Special Rapporteurs to visit Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, took office in April 2018. Since then, he has pledged to implement progressive reforms and his government has closed Maekelawi detention center in Addis Ababa, a site notorious for torture and abuse of prisoners. He also acknowledged that torture exists in Ethiopia in a June speech to parliament, a rare admission for an Ethiopian prime minister.
Thus far, however, the new prime minister has not stated how his government will tackle the larger problem of impunity for torture. While many former prisoners would welcome the closure of Jail Ogaden, such a move would not address the abusive nature of the region’s security forces, the impunity of those who engage in serious abuses, or the weak rule of law in Somali Region.
Ethiopia should comply with the provisions of its own constitution and fulfill its core obligations under international human rights law—in particular the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment—by systemically addressing persistent allegations of torture and illegal detention. Ethiopia’s new prime minister and senior officials, including in the federal police and the military, should urgently and publicly condemn abuse of prisoners in Jail Ogaden and other prisons in Ethiopia, to send an unequivocal public message that mistreatment of prisoners will not be tolerated—and back up such announcements with disciplinary action and prosecutions of officials who engage in such practices.
In the face of numerous and horrific allegations, Dr Abiy Ahmed and parliament should establish a federal Commission of Experts (COE) for Somali Region. The Commission should investigate abuse at Jail Ogaden and recommend specific officials, regardless of rank, to face criminal charges for the mistreatment of prisoners. This should include specific investigations into senior Somali Region officials such as President Abdi Illey and current head of Liyu police Abdirahman Labagole.
Furthermore, authorities should allow access to Jail Ogaden and all other detention centers throughout the country to independent Ethiopian and international monitors, including human rights and humanitarian organizations, members of the diplomatic community, African Union human rights mechanisms, and UN mechanisms such as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Prime Minister Abiy should also take immediate steps to substantially reform the Liyu police and hold senior members of the Liyu police and Somali Region government to account for serious human rights violations, including torture in Jail Ogaden.
Published on HRW on July 4, 2018
The full report is available here.
Mexico, one of Latin America’s big economic power houses, held presidential elections on 1 July 2018. The newly elected president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was elected with 53% of the national vote for his left-wing progressive agenda, defeating the party of the outgoing president, Mr Peña Nieto. López Obrador promised the country’s indigenous peoples significant change, including recognition of land rights. Only time will tell whether his promises will turn reality.
The Chinese government permitted Liu Xia, the widow of dissident Liu Xiaobo, to board a plane to Germany on the morning of July 10, 2018, nearly a year to the day since her husband’s death, Human Rights Watch said today. The German government negotiated Liu Xia’s release, whose health significantly deteriorated during nearly eight years of house arrest.
“It is a tremendous relief that Liu Xia has been able to leave China for freedom abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Ever since her late husband received the Nobel Peace Prize while in a Chinese prison, Liu Xia was also unjustly detained. The German government deserves credit for its sustained pressure and hard work to gain Liu Xia’s release.”
By Salil Shetty
During a visit to Peru last year, I had the honor of meeting Melchora Surco, an indigenous woman from Alto Huancané, a village set amid the Andean mountains, who has been fighting for clean water for her community for years.
At 63, Melchora seemed older because she was worn out -- not only by health problems from water that had been contaminated by toxic metals, but also by her struggle to get the Peruvian government to stem pollution in her community's only source of fresh water.
Yet she showed no sign of giving up, which, in a country where indigenous peoples have been treated like second-class citizens for decades, requires a boundless supply of both tenacity and courage.
As I reach the end of my eight years as Amnesty International's Secretary General, this is a moment to reflect on the countless activists I have met like Melchora, who defy all odds to hold the powerful to account. It is my deep belief that their strength and numbers serve as the clearest rebuttal to the skeptics who argue that human rights are failing.True, human rights are under attack with very few leaders standing ready to champion them and provide moral leadership on an increasingly fragmented global stage. The United States' withdrawalfrom the United Nations Human Rights Council is the latest example of that.
True, the United Nations is deadlocked, unable to ensure international justice for mass atrocity crimes as countries put naked self-interest above any pretense of principle -- whether in Myanmar, Syria or Gaza.
And, true, repression is on the march in countries such as Turkey, where nearly a third of all the world's imprisoned journalists languish in jails; in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte's horrifying "war on drugs" has killed thousands; and in Hungary, where the government has launched an all-out assault on NGOs helping migrants.
However, to indulge in hand-wringing over human rights is not just defeatist -- it is misdirected.
By DUNJA MIJATOVIĆ
Humans and machines are destined to live in an ever-closer relationship. To make it a happy marriage, we have to better address the ethical and legal implications that data science carry.
Artificial intelligence, and in particular its subfields of machine learning and deep learning, may only be neutral in appearance, if at all. Underneath the surface, it can become extremely personal.
The benefits of grounding decisions on mathematical calculations can be enormous in many sectors of life. However, relying too heavily on AI inherently involves determining patterns beyond these calculations and can therefore turn against users, perpetrate injustices and restrict people’s rights.
AI in fact can negatively affect a wide range of our human rights. The problem is compounded by the fact that decisions are taken on the basis of these systems, while there is no transparency, accountability and safeguards on how they are designed, how they work and how they may change over time.
States illegally use citizenship, nationality and immigration laws to justify racist policies - expert
Racist and xenophobic ideologies based on ethno-nationalism regularly combine with national security fears and economic anxieties to violate the human rights of non-citizens, indigenous peoples and minorities, said the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume.
In a report to the Human Rights Council, the UN expert urged “all to be vigilant regarding the calculated and opportunistic ways in which many political leaders and parties continue to exploit the economic discontent and national security anxieties of their populations”.
She applauded some “courageous” States and other actors within the United Nations system who have publicly condemned instances of extreme xenophobic ethno-nationalism. “However, in most instances of explicit ethno-nationalism, xenophobia and racism, even at the highest levels of political office, too many States remain silent,” she said, adding this silence amounts to complicity. Achiume urged all States and multilateral regional bodies to take public, consistent and firm positions against all such incidents whenever they occur.
States have long used access to citizenship and immigration status as a discriminatory tool against marginalized groups, she said. Exclusion from citizenship status, or formal immigration status - often rooted in ethno-nationalist ideology - continues to occur along racial, ethnic, national origin and religious lines. This does not only harm non-citizens, but also makes citizens from minority ethnic, racial or religious groups vulnerable to discrimination and intolerance.
“Statelessness, for example, is often the result of longstanding discriminatory laws, policies and practices that have led to the exclusion of people who are considered as foreign, even when they have been the respective countries for generations,” said the expert.
These restrictions also often carry a gender dimension as in a number of countries, women cannot transfer their nationality to their children or non-national spouse, the Special Rapporteur said.
The report also highlighted that States continued to use national security and counter-terrorism justifications to strip members of their national populations of citizenship. Achiume said that arbitrary citizenship stripping in practice has a disproportionate effect on marginalized racial, national and religious groups.
She also highlighted escalating inequality, and the direct relationship between the increase in economic disparity and the increase in xenophobic and populist parties. “The resulting economic marginalization of large sectors of national populations continues to facilitate toxic scapegoating, in which migrants, refugees and other non-nationals bear the blame for the economic failures of Governments and the global neoliberal order,” she said. “To make matters worse, opportunistic political leaders and extremist groups continue to use economic fears to justify punishing restrictions on the human rights of migrants.”
Published on OHCHR on July 2, 2018
Cambodia’s increasingly dictatorial, one-party rule is underpinned by generals in the security forces who are responsible for serious and systematic human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have benefitted from the unquestioning support of senior officials in the army, gendarmerie, and police to effectively eliminate all political opponents and dissolve the main opposition party, rendering the upcoming July 2018 national elections meaningless.
The 213-page report, “Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen: A Long History of Rights Abuses by Hun Sen’s Generals,” spotlights 12 senior security officers who form the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime. Each of these officers owes his high-ranking and lucrative position to political and personal connections with Hun Sen dating back two decades or more. Each has demonstrated a willingness to commit rights abuses on behalf of Hun Sen. Instead of serving the public, these officials have acted to protect the rule of Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than 33 years. Throughout their careers, they have served in government positions paying modest official salaries, yet they have amassed large amounts of unexplained wealth.
“Over the years, Hun Sen has created and developed a core of security force officers who have ruthlessly and violently carried out his orders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The importance of Cambodia’s generals has become even more apparent ahead of July’s elections, as they engage in crackdowns against journalists, political opponents, and anti-government protesters – and openly campaign for Hun Sen.”