Testimony of Maria Burnett, East and Horn of Africa Director, at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Co-Chairman Hultgren and members of the Commission, thank you for the invitation to testify today.
Thousands of Eritreans, many of them young, flee Eritrea every month. This means Eritrea is losing a significant percentage of its population – by far the largest of any country not wracked by active conflict. UNHCR reported that at the end of 2016 there were 459,000 Eritreans who had claimed asylum worldwide in African states, in the Middle East, in Europe and here in the United States. Eritrea does not release population statistics, but estimations put that at more than 10% of Eritrea’s current population.
Based on Human Rights Watch research, Eritreans’ most predominant impetus for flight is to escape what is known as “national service.” By a proclamation issued in 1995, all Eritreans are subject to 18 months of national service, including six months of military training. Eritrean law requires Eritreans leaving the country to hold an exit permit which the authorities only issue selectively, severely punishing those caught trying to leave without one, including with jail time.
To be clear, limited terms of national conscription do not, in themselves, constitute human rights violations. But it is not limited in Eritrea. The Eritrean government disregards the proclamation’s time limits. Many conscripts are forced to serve indefinitely. Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of Eritreans who were forced to serve a decade or more before they decided to flee -- in one recent case, a man had been in forced national service for over 17 years.
While some fortunate conscripts are assigned to civil service jobs or as teachers, many are placed in military units assigned to work on “development” projects in agriculture and infrastructure. None have a choice about their assignments, the locations or length of their service.
In the past few years, more and more unaccompanied children have fled Eritrea. When interviewed in Europe, they’ve explained they feared being forced into possibly indefinite military service. Many children told us they had observed what had happened to their fathers, older siblings, or other close relatives who had been conscripted and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.
It’s not just the length of time that causes so many conscripts to flee. What happens to them during their years of service is also devastating.
Pay during national service is below subsistence, although the Eritrean government has recently announced increases for some conscripts. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry in 2015 correctly called Eritrea’s national service a form of “enslavement.” During service, commanders subject conscripts to physical abuse, including torture.
An 18-year-old boy, interviewed by Human Rights Watch summed up what many have told us: “We love our country, but when you finish Grade 12, you become a soldier for life. You cannot feed your family and you’re the property of the army. And I did not want that, so I was forced to flee.”
The abuses in national service are long standing and well-documented, and recent interviews reveal that, sadly, nothing has changed in recent years.
National service may be the leading cause of the Eritrean exodus but there are others of significance.
Citizens cannot express their views or question government policies affecting them. There is no legislative representation, no independent press, no independent non-governmental organizations to which citizens can turn. The judiciary is tightly controlled by the government. President Isaias has refused to implement a constitution approved by referendum in 1997 that confers some citizens’ basic rights.
Eritreans who criticize or question government policies during government-called community assemblies, or in more limited fora, have been punished without trial or means of appeal. Suspicion alone may be enough to lead to arrest; often a prisoner is not told what “crime” he or she has committed. Indefinite imprisonment is a usual punishment, sometimes accompanied by physical abuse. Imprisonment can be incommunicado; relatives are not told of the whereabouts of a prisoner, much less allowed to visit.
Relatives of those that speak out are also punished. They are denied government ration cards to buy scarce but essential provisions.
Eritreans are punished for having the “wrong” religious beliefs. Since 2002, the government has “recognized” only four religious groups: Sunni Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches.
At times, security personnel raid private homes where devotees of unrecognized religions meet for communal prayer. Arrests and imprisonment of attendees usually follow; so, sometimes, does physical abuse. Repudiation of his or her religion is typically the price of a prisoner’s release.
Even adherents and leaders of the “recognized” religions are not necessarily immune from punishment. [as Father Thomas will already have explained to the Commission in detail.]
But unfortunately, abuses do not stop when people leave Eritrea. Fleeing Eritreans are often victimized by their smugglers especially those trying to reach the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. Abuses are rampant in Sudan, Egypt and Libya en route and hundreds have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. Those who survived have told Human Rights Watch interviewers of horrific stories about the dangers they encountered during their journey but insisted it was worth their escape from oppression. One boy, interviewed in Italy after his three-month journey from Eritrea, told Human Rights Watch: “I fled my country [Eritrea] because of all the problems I had while I was in the army. I don’t want to be a soldier but they beat me and tortured me when I was caught trying to escape. When I finally got out I thought I would be free, but I was beaten and tortured even worse in Sudan and Libya by smugglers. Crossing the sea was terrifying, but I am so relieved to finally be here.”
There are steps that the Eritrean government could take to stem migration, and importantly address the human rights crisis that has wracked the country. Eritrea could end indefinite national service and begin the process of demobilizing conscripts. It could penalize military commanders and security officers who authorize torture and other forms of severe physical punishment. It could unconditionally release political prisoners or bring anyone it considers an offender before a truly independent court of law. It could stop interference with all forms of peaceful religious expression. It could allow establishment of an independent press and non-governmental organizations. It could publicly affirm – and enforce – rights to freedom of expression, opinion, religion, association, and movement.
Unfortunately, the Eritrean government has steadfastly refused to change. In the absence of willingness by the Eritrean government to end its abuses and bring abusers to justice, other countries should investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing serious crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction and in accordance with their national laws.
Countries concerned by human rights abuses of Eritreans, and their efforts at migrating should work to undercut the Eritrean government’s public excuses for repression and protect the Eritreans who have fled from being repatriated to suffer further abuse.
With a new Secretary of State confirmation underway we expect to see some change at senior State Department levels [and this could mark the beginning of a new approach on Eritrea.] During Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing he said he was a “talent hawk.” If that is the case, we hope he will fill the position for Africa Assistant Secretary quickly and nominate someone who is well versed in issues and challenges related to the Horn of Africa – and not just counterterrorism or security related ones.
In 2002 an international boundary commission was established to demarcate the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The United States was a guarantor of an armistice agreement ending a 1998-2000 border war that established the international commission. While both sides agreed to accept the findings of the international commission as binding, Ethiopia refused to accept the findings when the final decision was to award a key piece of territory to Eritrea. President Isaias uses the border issue – of “no peace, no war” – as the principal excuse for his repressive policies. While both sides have been firmly entrenched in their positions, there may be an opening for reconsideration as Ethiopia’s new prime minister Dr Abiy Ahmed recently expressed his desire to resolve disputes with Eritrea after, in his own words “years of misunderstandings.”
The United States and other countries should urgently take steps to protect the Eritreans who have managed to flee the government’s oppression, should take into consideration the pattern of serious human rights abuses in Eritrea in examining asylum claims, and ensure that no one is returned to a threat of persecution or torture.
Last September, the U.S Departments of Homeland Security and State announced an intent to repatriate about 700 Eritrean individuals. The government should take care to ensure that all of those individuals have a genuine opportunity to advance any claims for protection in light of human rights conditions in Eritrea, if they have not done so already.
By shedding light on what’s happening to Eritreans in Eritrea and in countries of potential asylum, this Commission is performing a welcome and important public service.
Published on HRW on April 19, 2018
Southern Poverty Law Center sues private prison company that uses forced labor of detained immigrants in Georgia to boost profits
CoreCivic, Inc., a private prison company under contract with Stewart County, Georgia, to house individuals detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is forcing detained immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain the detention center in a scheme to maximize profits, according to a class-action lawsuit the SPLC filed against the company today.
Detained immigrants at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia who refuse to work are threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, and phone calls to loved ones, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws, according to the lawsuit.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in California, Washington, Colorado and Texas, challenging private prison companies’ work practices.
“CoreCivic is placing profits above people by forcing detained immigrants to perform manual labor for next to nothing, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate the local economy,” said Meredith Stewart, senior attorney for the SPLC. “CoreCivic is padding its pockets by violating anti-trafficking laws.”
The “Dollar-a-Day” program creates a lucrative profit scenario for CoreCivic: Detained immigrants are forced to purchase basic necessities from CoreCivic’s commissary, and the primary way to fund their purchases is to participate in the work program that is necessary for the operation of the facility. These jobs include providing basic functions at the facility like cooking and cleaning, work for which CoreCivic would otherwise have to hire and pay outside employees.
Plaintiff Wilhen Hill Barrientos is an asylum seeker from Guatemala who has been detained for 33 months while his case is pending. When he arrived at Stewart Detention Center, he was faced with a difficult decision – either work for nearly nothing or lose access to basic necessities, safety and privacy.
Refusing to work would mean that Barrientos would not have enough money to pay for costly phone calls to his family, and that he would likely be moved from a two-person prison cell to an open dorm that has few bathrooms, round-the-clock lighting and frequent fights; or that he would be placed into solitary confinement.
“When I arrived at Stewart I was faced with an impossible choice – either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food,” Barrientos said.
He chose to work to live with some privacy and maintain access to the commissary.
“If I didn’t work, I would never be able to call my family,” said Barrientos, who works in the kitchen, cooking meals for up to 2,000 people each day.
For his work, Barrientos receives at most $4 to $5 per day for six to eight hours of work; approximately 50 cents per hour. Since Stewart has no paid kitchen staff, officers usually require Barrientos to work seven days a week, even when he is sick. Barrientos was sent to medical segregation for two months after he filed a grievance for being forced to work while he was sick.
In 2014, current and former detained immigrants who were forced to work at private detention centers began to file class-action lawsuits alleging violations of federal and state labor laws.
The SPLC filed the lawsuit against CoreCivic in conjunction with the Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Project South, and Burns Charest LLP.
Published on SPLC on April 17, 2018
By Eunice Wanjiru
The regulation known as the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, initially published by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), was signed in mid-March 2018. Before and after the signing many voices have been raised in protest.
Under the new regulations, bloggers, as well as Tanzanians operating online radio and television streaming services, are required to apply for a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 (€750) before they can publish any material online. Online forums and social media users are also affected.
Critics say that this is a staggering amount. They regard the fee as a further bid by President John Magufuli to gag dissident voices.
The new regulation gives the government the right to revoke a permit if a site publishes content that "causes annoyance" or "leads to public disorder." A blogger can also be fined up to $2,200 for publishing such content.
This week two musicians were briefly detained, one of them one of the country's most popular singers, Nassib Abdul, better known as Diamond Platnumz. He and 26-year old Faustina Charles, popularly known as Nandy, was arrested after they posted video clips deemed obscene by the authorities. Abdul had shared a video clip that showed him kissing a girl while Faustina Charles had posted a clip of herself with another musician that was considered indecent. Both were released on bail.
"We can say that the freedom of expression in this country is progressively being shut down, constricted and seriously limited,” said Tanzanian political analyst Jenerali Ulimwengu. There is a lot of uncertainty in Tanzania at the moment about what the government may be planning to do next to further reduce press freedom and freedom of expression.
Some media organizations have in the past been shut down for lengthy periods of time. In 2017 alone, at least four newspapers were suspended and shut down. The Swahili daily Tanzania Daima was suspended for 90 days after being accused of spreading "false information" in a story about anti-retroviral drug use for people with HIV. A local newspaper, Nipashe, decided to suspend weekend publication for three months after publishing material that apparently did not go down well with President Magufuli.
Some journalists have been arrested and others have been reported missing. The editor of a popular discussion platform, Jamii Forums, was detained and tried for publishing content related to corruption in Tanzania.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest blow to free speech in Tanzania. "If Tanzanian authorities were aiming at killing online information, they would not go about it any differently," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk.
"At RSF, we are deeply concerned by the path Tanzania has taken since President Magufuli took office in 2015. Many radios have been shut down, investigative journalist Azori Gwanda has been missing for five months and forum editors as well as journalists are regularly subject to criminal proceedings. So, this new regulation is a step further in a context of significant deterioration of press freedom in Tanzania," Froger said.
Alternative modes of expression
Fifty-eight-year-old President Magufuli took power in October 2015 and has slowly been tightening the laws that govern press freedom in the country, enabling police and government officials to increase their actions against media houses.
"I would like to tell media owners: Be careful... If you think you have that kind of freedom, [it is] not to that extent," Magufuli said at a public event in March. This comment followed one made in January this year when the president said that the days of newspapers acting unethically were "numbered."
"If you allow traditional media to thrive, be it newspapers, radio or television stations, you allow people to speak out openly and to air their views. You can respond to those views, you can challenge their arguments with counter arguments, but you do not just shut down spaces and hope people will just shut up," said Ulimwengu.
The Tanzanian political analyst said people always seek alternative ways to express themselves, and these could be more damaging.
"The more the authorities clamp down on legitimate voices which seek to express themselves and air their grievances, this will necessarily lead more and more people into clandestine, underground and less transparent modes of expression," Ulimwengu told DW.
Less support for Magufuli
Magufuli, nicknamed 'the Bulldozer' for his strict leadership style, has dismissed dozens of senior public officials over allegations of corruption and inefficiency since he was elected in late 2015. First welcomed, his authoritarian style is attracting increasing criticism.
"Everybody was pretty much behind Magufuli when he took these measures," Ulimwengu said. "But I have a feeling that fewer people are inclined to support him because he has now tainted that anti-corruption, anti-tax evasion stance with the clamping down on freedom of expression. And people are asking themselves, if you're really doing something good for the people, why do you want to hide it?" he added.
Under Magufuli's rule, numerous opposition members have been arrested or jailed, and people have been detained for perceived "insults" to the president.
Tundu Lissu, leader of the opposition Party for Democracy and Progress CHADEMA, was attacked on his way home after attending a parliamentary meeting last September. He was severely injured. Lissu is considered to be one of the most vocal critics of President Magufuli.
Opposition not being heard
"Opposition has been minimized. Members of the opposition feel like they are being harassed by the government on frivolous charges," Ulimwengu told DW.
"Some of them have gone completely quiet. You do not expect to hear voices strong enough, rising out of the opposition to say this is not right, this is not fair, this is anti-democracy."
Ulimwengu added that this leads to a generalized feeling that spaces are being shut down and that it is Magufuli's agenda to do so.
Magufuli has banned opposition parties from holding rallies and mobilization.
Human rights activists have been pressuring Magufuli to govern in a less authoritarian manner.
The United States, the European Union and several Western embassies last month voiced concern over politics-related violence and allegations of human rights abuses in Tanzania.
Published on DW on April 17, 2018
With Argentina in the global spotlight as it holds the G20 presidency this year, its government must commit to tackle human rights challenges and play a leading role in addressing other key regional and global issues, said Amnesty International during its Secretary General’s visit to the country.
“Argentina continues to face a number of urgent challenges, which particularly affect the country’s most vulnerable communities. Argentina’s presidency of the G20 entails a focus on economic development and trade, but this can never be separated from human rights. When this has happened, it has resulted in many millions being left behind, fuelling the potential for social and political unrest,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
At a meeting with President Mauricio Macri and other members of his cabinet, Salil Shetty discussed the organization’s views on the challenges and opportunities with regard to the human rights context in the country, and the key role that Argentina plays in relation to other global and regional issues.
The Secretary General welcomed Argentina’s generosity towards migrants and refugees and fleeing a human rights crisis in Venezuela, but he also emphasized the need for regional leaders, including Argentina, to work towards a real solution in Venezuela which puts human rights at its centre.
President Macri’s initiative to open up a congressional debate on abortion is an important step toward fulfilling Argentina’s international obligation on human rights. Half a million women undergo abortions every year in the country and over 3,000 Argentinian women have paid with their lives for the criminalization of abortion. Besides, public opinion is increasingly clear: in a recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International, 59% of people interviewed were in favour of decriminalizing abortion.
“In the era of #NiUnaMenos, #MeToo and the huge momentum for women’s rights across the world, but also at a time when women’s rights are being rolled back across the Americas, Argentina could send a powerful signal by taking the historic step of decriminalizing abortion, setting an important example to its neighbours and bringing the country in line with some of its important economic partners in other parts of the world,” said Salil Shetty.
Amnesty International also called on President Macri to address pressing human rights challenges, including the rights of Indigenous people. In a visit to Salinas Grandes in the Jujuy province, the Secretary General listened to the concerns of Indigenous people communities about the potential impact of the rapidly growing of lithium mining on their livelihoods, their water supply, and the environment. In this changing context, their voices have not been heard.
Argentina is obliged to seek the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. This is not just window dressing, or a tick-box exercise. It is about respect for the people who have a historic claim to the land and an ancient wisdom about the sustainable exploitation of the land.
“Full consultation and ensuring that Indigenous peoples benefit from the lithium extraction will show that Argentina is serious about the message of fairness and sustainability that it wants to put at the heart of its G20 presidency.”
Finally, Amnesty International’s Secretary General expressed concern to President Macri over troubling signs of the erosion of the rights to protest and freedom of expression in Argentina. Heavy handed police action in dealing with protests, including arbitrary arrests and excessive force, has been on the rise as a result of the nation’s prioritization of security issues.
While the government has spoken about the importance of dialogue with civil society, many human rights defenders and civil society organizations are reporting increasing stigmatization and smear campaigns.
“At a time when many governments are justifying rollbacks on civic freedoms in the name of security, Argentina should demonstrate to the region and the entire world how to get the balance right between protecting the rights of its people as a whole and fully respecting the right to peaceful protest. To do so, the State must ensure security forces are trained in a sensitive manner, and issue clear guidelines for the use of force by law enforcement officials, in line with international standards,” said Salil Shetty.
Published on Amnesty International on April 12, 2018
By Ianthe Metzger
In a landmark judgement today, the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago ruled that outdated sections of the country’s penal code that criminalized consensual adult same-sex activity are unconstitutional.
In his ruling, Judge Devindra Rampersad stated: “The court declares that sections 13 and 16 of the [Sexual Offences Act] are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalise any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults.” The final judgement will be handed down in July.
In March 2017, LGBTQ advocate Jason Jones filed suit against the government of Trinidad and Tobago to nullify Section 13 and Section 16 of the penal code, claiming that they were unconstitutional and a violation of his right to privacy and freedom of expression. The case garnered international attention, and provoked protests by local anti-equality activists, and support from LGBTQ advocates and allies. Earlier this week, pro-equality Trinidadians, including many prominent local actors and comedians, held a demonstration outside Parliament calling for equality, love and acceptance in advance of the ruling.
While advocates celebrate today’s victory, the fight for full equality in Trinidad and Tobago is far from over and continues to moves forward. Organizations including the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) continue to focus on issues ranging from income inequality, economic sustainability, crime and violence, to strengthened governance, inter-island transportation, and the national values of tolerance and diversity. Their efforts also include adding protections for LGBTQ people to the country’s Equal Opportunity Act. There are still no protections for LGBTQ Trinidadians in housing, employment and public accommodations.
On the landmark case CAISO Director Colin Robinson told Newsday earlier this week, “The Bill of Rights says everyone should be protected, that’s what we would like to happen….we have dignity and this is our nation, and we are totally willing to share it with other groups, but they have to share it with us, and parliament needs to protect us.”
Published on Human Rights Campaign on April 12, 2018.
45 civil groups decry Hong Kong’s ‘deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment’ in UN submission
By Kris Cheng
A group of 45 civil society organisations have submitted more than 100 suggestions to the United Nations relating to Hong Kong’s “deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment.”
The joint submission was made to the UN Human Rights Council for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on China, which will take place in November and will be attended by Hong Kong government officials. The last UPR was held in 2013, and the groups suggested that a lot has changed in Hong Kong since then.
“The increasing erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong will be under the international spotlight in the coming months. The UPR is an opportunity for the government to show it is serious in upholding its human rights obligations,” said Simon Henderson, the spokesperson for the coalition of civil groups.
Henderson said that the review on Hong Kong is considered part of China’s, but although the UN made 300 suggestions relating to China in 2013, none were made for Hong Kong. He said it was the first time Hong Kong groups had come together to provide such a large number of suggestions.
The coalition includes concern groups on disabilities, gender recognition, freedom of speech, gay rights, domestic worker rights, environment, open data and ethnic minorities, among others.
“The submission provides a roadmap of specific, measurable and achievable recommendations for Hong Kong to abide by its human rights commitments and restore its international standing. Many reflect long outstanding recommendations by the United Nations which the Hong Kong government has ignored,” Henderson said.
The groups called upon the government to adopt a comprehensive human rights ordinance to incorporate all international human rights treaties that apply to Hong Kong in domestic legislation. It should also amend the Public Order Ordinance – including sections on disorder in public places and unlawful assembly – to ensure it is in line with international regulations.
They said the government should only propose the national security law after universal suffrage has been fully implemented, to ensure it fully complies with international standards.
By Beh Lih Yi
Migrant workers can now rate their recruiters and warn others of potential abuses on a global portal aimed at stamping out modern slavery that mirrors reviews on the travel website TripAdvisor.
From domestic workers to construction laborers, about 25 million people were trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the charity Walk Free Foundation.
Desperate to escape poverty at home, many migrant workers pay fees to recruitment agencies to secure a job abroad, but campaigners say they can end up trapped in bonded labor.
Inspired by the travel website, the “Recruitment Advisor” that was launched this month in four languages allows migrant workers to review their experiences in a bid to help others to avoid unscrupulous recruiters.
“One can choose a recruitment agency with good ratings,” said Ira Rachmawati from the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which runs the portal.
“We want to promote fair recruitment. If the agency is doing fair recruitments, they could contribute to helping migrant workers making an informed decision,” the project officer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.
Available in English, Indonesian, Tagalog and Nepali in the first phase, the ITUC - which represents 207 million workers globally - said the website empowers workers to learn about their rights through the peer-to-peer reviews.
It has over 10,000 recruitment agencies listed on its website, and workers will be asked to review areas ranging from recruitment fees, to employment contract and working conditions.
The website is one of the latest initiatives seeking to tap technologies from blockchain to mobile apps to combat slavery and human trafficking, which generate profits of $150 billion per year globally according to U.N. figures.
A website similar to Recruitment Advisor was started in 2014 for Mexican migrants working in the United States, but the ITUC said its initiative has a global target.
Alex Ong from advocacy group Migrant Care, however, warned that the industry needs an overhaul and recruiters should be cut out from the system entirely to prevent exploitation.
“(Recruiters) have an ultimate motive of making profits from migrant workers,” Ong, whose group supports Indonesian migrant workers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Published on Reuters on April 10, 2018
By Nicki Holmyard
Thailand has long been the subject of scrutiny and controversy due to poor working conditions and practices sometimes found in its fishing and wider seafood industry, but matters are slowly improving.
Three years ago, the government was spurred into action to start making changes after being handed a yellow card by the European Union. Since then, Thailand has made improvements to its labor laws, increased the accountability of employers, and upped enforcement.
In March, the Thai cabinet approved draft amendments to an ordinance that will represent a significant overhaul of the country’s labor laws. If approved, the ordinance will take aim at eliminating worker punishment and improving the plight of migrant workers, who make up a large portion of the employment pool in the Thai seafood industry. The ordinance will facilitate better control and monitoring of the process for bringing foreign workers into Thailand, including the need for contracts and a prohibition on the collection of unofficial fees. Employers who hire undocumented foreign workers will face heavy fines, with repeat offenders facing a prison sentence, according to the Thai government.
Another important advance for Thailand is the government’s cooperation with the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) in a three-year Ship to Shore Rights project, funded by the European Union.
The project aims to prevent and reduce forced and child labor, and to progressively eliminate the exploitation of workers – particularly migrant workers – in the fishing and seafood processing sectors. The intention is to oversee a strengthening of legal, policy, and regulatory framework, the implementation of more effective labor inspection and enforcement, an improvement in core labor standards compliance, and a strengthening of workers’ access to support services.
In 2017, to kick off the Ship to Shore Rights project, the ILO undertook a survey of 434 workers from across Thailand, with the goal of learning more about the country’s fishing, aquaculture, and seafood processing sectors. Participants, the majority of whom were migrants, were asked about recruitment practices, wages, hours, safety and health, support services, complaint mechanisms, living conditions, forced labor indicators, and legal compliance levels.
Their evidence is included in a report, “Baseline research findings on fishers and seafood workers in Thailand,” which also sets out the limited progress made to date, outlines major challenges remaining in the industry, and makes recommendations for more effective enforcement of Thai law to prevent and end unfair labor practices for migrant workers. The data will be used as a benchmark and compared with information collected at the end of the project in 2019, according to the project’s website.
The research indicated that the overall labor situation in Thailand has improved, compared to results from a smaller study undertaken four years ago. It found, for example, a marked reduction in reports of physical violence. It also found improvements in child labor totals, the presence of written contracts, and total wages, with one percent of those responding to the survey classified as child labor, 43 percent of fishers reporting written contracts, and wages being on average higher than previously reported.
The survey also found some discouraging trends, with 34 percent of workers reported earning less than the legal minimum wage before deductions (52 percent of workers in this category were women); 24 percent of fishers reporting pay withheld by vessel owners, some for 12 or more months; and 34 percent claiming not to have access to their identity documents.
In a statement responding to the report, the Thai government said that it is cooperating fully with the ILO to continuously address rights violations and improve working conditions in Thailand, that it backed the work of the Ship to Shore Rights project, and that it receives regular updates from Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour Jarin Jakkaphak, who chairs the steering committee.
“The baseline research on fishers and seafood workers is a collective effort from all partners to drive and measure progress to raise living and labor standards in the fishing and seafood sectors in line with international standards and achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 8 [Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all],” Jakkaphak said. “It will also contribute to achieving decent work, economic growth, and sustainable development whilst leaving no one behind.”
According to Luisa Ragher, chargé d’affaires ad interim of the E.U. delegation to Thailand, the Thai government is committed to making substantive changes to improve the labor situation in its seafood industry.
“The E.U. welcomes the substantive and rapid progress accomplished by the Royal Thai Government to create better working conditions in the fisheries and seafood sectors for migrant and Thai workers,” she said. “Further challenges remain, and the E.U. stands ready to assist the government in achieving its objectives.”
At a seminar held during the 2018 Seafood Expo North America in March in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Apinya Tajit, the deputy director of Stella Maris, a nonprofit seafarers’ welfare organization, confirmed that the labor rights situation has improved, following closer cooperation and collaboration by Thai government agencies with several NGOs. Tajit’s own organization has been working closely with the Thai government to increase protection of the migrant workers in the fisheries sector, she said.
Tajit explained that NGOs now have seats on Thailand’s Working Group on Labor Relations Promotion in Sea Fishing Operation, and have begun to work with the government as part of its inspection and law enforcement teams. She asked the audience to see for themselves what is happening in Thailand and to be cautious of news reports based on old data, collected prior to the government embarking on its program of labor reform.
Published on SeaFood Source on April 2, 2018
Israel: Deportation of African asylum-seekers is a cruel and misguided abandonment of responsibility
Israel’s policy of deporting African asylum-seekers to two unnamed African countries is an abdication of its responsibility to refugees and an example of the vicious political measures feeding the “global refugee crisis”, Amnesty International said today as the Israeli Supreme Court considers new evidence on the legality of the policy.
Israel has allegedly reached agreements with two countries – widely understood to be Uganda and Rwanda. The terms of the agreements are classified.
Under the government’s new “Procedure for Deportation to Third Countries”, launched in January, those who agree to leave are given US$3,500 and a ticket to either their country of origin or an unnamed “third country”. Those who refuse face indefinite detention. The Israeli government claims the scheme facilitates “voluntary departures” of “infiltrators”.
“How can the Israeli government possibly describe this as a way of deporting asylum-seekers ‘voluntarily’ when the alternatives are returning to persecution or indefinite detention? This is not a choice anyone should have to make,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The forced – and illegal – deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers is a reckless abandonment of responsibility. This is an example of the ill-thought-out policies that have fed the so-called global refugee crisis.”
Under the policy of the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Eritrean and Sudanese male “infiltrators” are required to leave Israel by 4 April. The “Procedure for Deportation to Third Countries” is based on the premise that the deportees either never sought asylum and have lived in Israel irregularly, or sought asylum but did not qualify for it. Those who submitted their application after 1 January will be deported as well.
The Israeli government has not provided details of the agreements, including the identity of the “third countries”, which it considers to be confidential and potentially harmful to Israel’s international reputation. Rwanda and Uganda have denied the existence of the agreements, despite the testimonies of those deported there.
Israel boasts one of the highest gross domestic products (GDPs) in the world, making it one of the most prosperous and wealthy countries in the Middle East region.
“There is an onus of responsibility on the Israeli government to protect the world’s refugees and accept asylum seekers in desperate need of a home. It beggars belief that the Israeli authorities are now foisting their responsibility on countries who have only a fraction of the wealth and resources and their own much larger refugee populations,” said Philip Luther.
Israel’s GDP per capita is more than 50 times that of Rwanda and more than 55 times that of Uganda. Rwanda hosts at least three times more refugees than Israel, and Uganda’s refugee population is more than 20 times that of Israel.
Israel’s deportations to Rwanda and Uganda are illegal
The agreements between Israel and the unnamed African countries, whatever their identity, are illegal under international law as they violate the prohibition of non-refoulement. This is the prohibition against transferring anyone to a place where they would be at real risk of persecution and other serious human rights violations, or where they would not be protected against such a transfer later.
Upon arrival in Rwanda or Uganda, deportees quickly find that the Israeli promise of residence papers in the third country was empty. They therefore find themselves in an irregular migration status, which leaves them at risk of forcible return to their country of origin.
Many of those deported under the policy have little choice but to continue their journey through Libya and attempt dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean to Europe.
“This policy has put the asylum-seekers in an extremely vulnerable position as they are exposed to the risk of being sent back to their country of origin and cannot hold the Israeli government, or the government of the third country, to account,” said Philip Luther.
“We have documented several cases of asylum-seekers deported from Israel who were promised residency and work permits in Uganda and Rwanda, only to find that none of this was available upon arriving in the new country.”
In fact, none of the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers deported to Rwanda and Uganda – and later interviewed by NGOs, academics and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) – were granted regular status upon arrival.
Rwanda and Uganda have not only denied the presence of asylum-seekers arriving from Israel in their territory; they have also refused to acknowledge any duty towards them by denying that any agreement with Israel exists.
Israel turns its back on asylum-seekers and refugees – the shocking stats
Israel’s acceptance rate of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seeker claims is extremely low: less than 0.5%. Out of 15,200 asylum applications submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers between 2013 and 2017, only 12 have been recognized as refugees.
Over the past decade, only 0.1% of Eritrean asylum-seekers have been recognized as refugees in Israel. By comparison, the rate of recognition of Eritrean nationals who applied for refugee status in the EU in 2016 was 92.5%.
The main reason for the dramatically low recognition rate of Eritrean asylum-seekers is that Israel does not consider deserters from the Eritrean military service to qualify for refugee status. This goes against the eligibility guidelines issued by UNHCR.
In January 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court found the Israeli government’s interpretation of the protection needs of deserters from the Eritrean military service to be incompatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention. On 22 March, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber instructed the Population, Immigration and Border Authority to re-examine the cases of Eritreans held in Saharonim Prison whose claims for asylum had been rejected. However, the practical effects of these measures remain to be seen.
“The Israeli government must immediately halt the deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to Rwanda and Uganda and grant them access to a fair and effective refugee status determination procedure. Meanwhile, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda must immediately cease any co-operation with the Israeli government on this issue,” said Philip Luther.
“The Israeli authorities need to know that the world is watching with outrage at their brazen disregard for human life, dignity and responsibility to the wider global community.”
Published on Amnesty International on March 26, 2018