Precedent-setting United Nations Human Rights Committee case finds indeterminate sentences to be unjust
Close to 1000 prisoners serving long sentences could have a chance for freedom after a landmark case.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the rights of Allan Miller and Michael Carroll had been breached in respect of arbitrary detention, inadequate appeal rights from decisions of the parole board and failure to provide proper rehabilitation and reintegrative provisions to help these prisoners to return to society.
Serial rapist Carroll was sentenced to preventive detention in 1988. He was released in 2003 but recalled to prison six months later where he has resided since.
Miller was sentenced to preventive detention for rape in 1991.
This decision is expected to effect 850 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences.
The Committee also found that once the prisoners' minimum non-parole periods were
reached at 10 years, the prisoners needed to be held in non-punitive conditions, and
were not. After 10 years, their detention became for the protection of the public,
rather than for punitive purposes.
Since 2008 for Carroll, and 2010 for Miller, they had been in arbitrary detention - which would be a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Carroll's recall to prison for consuming alcohol was said to be because he was an undue risk to the public. He had fled his residence while on parole because of being hounded by the media, twice in a five-day period, following the leaking of his address by the Department of Corrections.
However, he only broke parole conditions, and did not commit a substantive crime during his seven months of parole. This resulted in a recall to prison for 14 years, which was further found to be an arbitrary detention.
The Committee found the Government were obligated to immediately reconsider Caroll's and Miller's detention and take steps to facilitate their release. The Government also needed to take steps to prevent similar situations happening in the future and review the relevant legislation.
Human rights lawyer Dr Tony Ellis, acting for both men, said that the decision was precedent setting.
All prisoners on preventive detention, or other indeterminate sentences such as life for murder, or lengthy periods of detention for the mentally ill, or intellectually disabled, would require the Government to seriously review legislation and penal and detention practice within 180 days.
General Manager Civil and Constitutional Policy from the Ministry of Justice Caroline Greaney confirmed the New Zealand Government had just received the Committee's decision.
"The Committee has raised a number of issues and the Ministry and other agencies will be providing advice to Ministers before the Government formally responds," she said.
"That response is required within the next six months and are unable to comment further while we prepare that advice."
Published on the NZ Herald on April 19, 2018
Congo-Brazzaville: Torture and arbitrary detentions of dozens of people put freedom of expression under severe strain
Dozens of activists and opposition members are languishing in prisons in Congo Brazzaville, some for almost three years, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression, while the international community maintains a silence on the human rights situation in the country, Amnesty International and four organizations said today.
The organizations call on the authorities to release all those arbitrarily arrested and open an investigation into allegations of torture.
"The Congolese authorities have not only resorted to arbitrarily arresting opposition members and activists, they have often subjected them to torture too. Some of the victims continue to bear the scars of such inhuman and degrading treatments,” said Balkissa Idé Siddo, Amnesty International Central Africa researcher.
"At every opportunity, the international community and donors such as the EU and the UN must work to ensure that the Congolese authorities immediately put an end to the repression and release all those arbitrarily detained."
Since the October 2015 constitutional referendum and the March 2016 presidential election, which were strongly contested by both the opposition and the international community, the authorities have led a wave of arrests of opposition supporters and banned peaceful demonstrations.
"The Congolese courts must immediately order the release of anyone arrested simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In any case where there is reasonable evidence for them to be charged with recognized crimes, they should be brought to a fair trial without delay,” said Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe, executive director of Central Africa Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC in French).
The signatories have documented at least 40 cases of political activists arrested between October 2015 and December 2016 simply for having exercised their right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. Most of them are still detained and the vast majority are charged with "incitement of public unrest" and "undermining internal security".
For example, those arrested in connection with protests around the constitutional referendum include Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition political party United for Congo (UPC in French). He was sentenced to two years in prison for participating in a protest against the change in the constitution.
Although Makaya has finished serving his sentence since November 2017, the authorities refused to release him. Since January this year, they have charged him with new offenses of “breaching national security” and "complicity in unlawful possession of weapons and ammunitions of war’'.
Before and after the March 2016 presidential election, the authorities have arrested and charged more than 20 opposition leaders and members with ‘’incitement of public unrest", on the basis of the provisions of the national law on political parties which is in contradiction with international and regional laws signed by the country. At least 16 of them remain in detention.
Those arrested include André Okombi Salissa President of the opposition Convention for Action, Democracy and Development (CADD in French). In April 2016, Salissa was forced into hiding after he publicly declared that he did not recognize the results of the presidential election. He was then arrested in January 2017 and charged with "undermining internal security “and” unlawful possession of weapons of war'". He is still in detention, alongside campaigners and supporters of former candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, and at least two members of the Congolese Movement for Democracy and Integral Development (MCDDI).
"These spurious charges used to detain opponents and activists are an affront to the country’s commitments to respect free speech and peaceful protest. They do nothing to improve the political climate and provide no solution to ensure security or lasting peace in Congo,” said Loamba Moke, President of the Association for Human Rights and the Prison System (ADHUC).
According to information collected by the signatories, several detainees have been tortured. The Congolese authorities have so far taken no steps to investigate these allegations or put an end to the practice.
On 24 January 2017, Modeste Boukadia, president of the Circle of Democrats and Republicans of Congo (CDRC, opposition), arrested a year earlier, was admitted to a hospital in Pointe-Noire, after he was beaten up by prison guards. He suffered from two broken bones in his lower back, high blood pressure and a heart condition.
Noel Mienanzambi Boyi, president of the Association for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence and a local radio host, was also subjected to torture while in detention after being arrested in January 2017.
"The international community, in particular the EU, can no longer ignore the repeated human rights violations in Congo, nor the lack of political will of its authorities to effectively combat impunity," said Laurent Duarte, Coordinator of "Tournons la Page''.
"At all levels of its engagement with Congolese authorities, the international community including the EU and the UN, must do its utmost to ensure the Congolese authorities put an end to the arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and inhuman treatment inflicted on political activists," said Brice Mackosso, Permanent Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission (CEJP) in Pointe Noire.
Published on AI on March 21, 2018
Today, a Virginia federal judge ruled that the treatment of three Iraqi individuals formerly detained at the infamous “hard site” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq constitutes torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, based on a thorough review of U.S. domestic and international law. The ruling also held that the men have sufficiently alleged that employees of private military contractor CACI Premier Technology conspired to commit and aided and abetted these crimes. The case, Al Shimari v. CACI, was filed nearly ten years ago, and CACI has repeatedly argued that, even if its employees were involved in torture and other abuse, the company is shielded from liability. Today’s 54-page ruling definitively rejected that position, as well as attempts by certain Bush-era officials to water down the prohibition against torture, and allowed the lawsuit to proceed against CACI.
“The decision is a historic judicial rebuke to the Bush administration’s torture paradigm, which had sought to evade the well-established prohibitions against torture, and is one of the clearest statements in the post-9/11 era that victims of torture and grave human rights abuses can access the courts for a remedy,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. “The court confirmed what was plain to the eye: that the horrific treatment our clients endured at Abu Ghraib was unlawful and that, in a country operating under the rule of law, those responsible can be held accountable.”
While a number of low-level military officers were court-martialed over their roles in the abuse, CACI has gone unpunished – and continues to reap millions of dollars in government contracts – even though U.S. military investigators long ago concluded that CACI interrogators conspired with the U.S. soldiers who were later court martialed to “soften up” detainees for interrogations, according to statements by co-conspirators. A U.S. Army general referred to the treatment as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton” criminal abuses.
Today’s opinion includes a detailed account of what happened to CCR’s clients, Suhail Al Shimari, Asa’ad Al-Zuba’e, and Salah Al-Ejaili, including:
[being] subjected to repeated stress positions, including at least one that made [Plaintiff Al-Ejaili] vomit black liquid; sexually-related humiliation; disruptive sleeping patterns and long periods of being kept naked or without food or water; and multiple instances of being threatened with dogs…being doused with hot and cold liquids…sexual assault and threats of rape; being left in a cold shower until [Plaintiff Zuba’e] was unable to stand; dog bites and repeated beatings, including with sticks and to the genitals…at least one [stress position] that lasted an entire day and resulted in [Zuba’e] urinating and defecating on himself; and threats that his family would be brought to Abu Ghraib…systematic beatings…with a baton and rifle, [being] he was hit against the wall; [being] forced to kneel on sharp stones, causing lasting damage to [Plaintiff Al Shimari’s] legs; …being kept in a dark cell and with loud music nearby; threats of being shot… electric shocks; being dragged around the prison by a rope tied around [Al Shimari’s] neck; and having fingers inserted into [Al Shimari’s] rectum.
The Court concluded: “it is clear that the abuse suffered by plaintiffs was intended to inflict severe pain or suffering and rises to the level of torture.”
Al Shimari v. CACI was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows non-U.S. citizens to sue for violations of international law committed abroad that “touch and concern” the United States. The opinion concludes that the political question doctrine is inapplicable to “cognizable claims” under the ATS.
Published on CCR on February 21, 2018
The Enough Project, which aims to end genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa, has addressed an open letter to several UN Commissioners expressing its concern over "the crackdown on peaceful protests and the wave of arbitrary arrests and continued incommunicado detentions by Sudanese government forces".
The letter also cites "the excessive use of force by Sudanese authorities".
The open letter is addressed to the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan Aristide Nononsi, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Annalisa Ciampi, and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst.
"We, the *undersigned Sudanese, African and international organisations, write to you in your capacities as Special Procedure mandate holders to draw your attention to the worrying developments concerning the excessive use of force by Sudanese authorities to disperse peaceful protests across Sudan. We urge you to call on the Government of Sudan to respect the peoples' rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression as guaranteed in international standards and UN treaties ratified by Sudan and refrain from using excessive force to disperse protests," the letter states.
"We urge you to call on the Government of Sudan to respect the peoples' rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression... and refrain from using excessive force to disperse protests."
"The Sudanese authorities' reaction to the recent January 2018 protests is contrary to Sudan's commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in regional and international treaties to which it is party. Since January 7, the authorities, including the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and police have beaten peaceful protestors with sticks and batons and fired tear gas and live ammunition into crowds. On January 7, in El Geneina, West Darfur one student was killed and six other students were injured after joint forces of the National Intelligence and Security Services and Sudanese Police used live ammunition to disperse a peaceful student march. At least five people were killed and 26 others sustained gunshot wounds when joint forces of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) opened live ammunition on a crowd of protestors at Hasahisa camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Zalingei, Central Darfur, on January 20.
"From January 6 to February 6, the security forces have arrested and detained scores of Sudanese citizens including opposition political party leaders, human rights defenders/activists, journalists, student activists and others for prolonged periods without charge or trial."
The letter also expresses concern about the prolonged detention of individuals, as well as "the repeated confiscation by the Sudanese authorities of national newspapers to prevent the coverage of the nationwide January 2018 protests".
The letter calls on the government of Sudan to:
* The letter is signed by:
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment, Sudan (KACE)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project).
Face Past for Future Foundation ( FP4F)
Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders- Uganda (NCHRD-U)
Sudan Democracy First Group
The MagkaSama Project, France
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Eltigani Hassan Mohamed Idis, Sudanese Advocate
BakriJebril Mohamed, Sudanese Advocate
Mohanad Mustafa Elnour, Sudanese Advocate
Amani Osman Hamdi, Sudanese Advocate
Published on All Africa on February 15, 2018
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies has continued to receive information on more arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals, post-print censorship of newspapers, release of detainees, criminal charges against peaceful protestors, constitutional petition challenging the continued arbitrary detention of individuals in connection with the crackdown on peaceful protests in Sudan.
The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) have carried out a mass campaign of arrests targeting individuals such as human rights defenders, journalists, political party leaders and others with arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, in most cases incommunicado, for their participation or suspected participation in the protests that occurred across Sudan in January 2018.
ACJPS remains concerned about the continued prolonged detention of hundreds of Sudanese citizens without charge or appearance before a court of law to determine the legality of their detention. ACJPS condemns the on-going silencing of political opposition members, activists, and human rights defenders through arbitrary detention, despite constitutional guarantees to the freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
ACJPS is currently aware of 29 individuals detained incommunicado by the NISS in Khartoum and Port Sudan states following arrests that occurred from 30 January to 6 February. In particular, there is concern about the safety and wellbeing of Mr. Mudathier Mohamed Abdul Rahim who was arrested by the NISS of Port Sudan on 4 February and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Amidst these recent detentions, the NISS has released 12 individuals who were arrested during and after the crackdown on peaceful protests that took place in Khartoum on 16 and 17 January, two Sudanese daily newspapers had their daily print runs confiscated by the NISS on 1 and 6 February and a second constitutional case challenging the indefinite detention of 9 individuals detained during and after the crackdown on peaceful protests on 16 and 17 January was filed on 30 January.
We call upon the Government of Sudan to guarantee the safety and well-being of all detainees and grant them immediate and unequivocal access to their lawyers and family members, medical services and release them in the absence of valid legal charges consistent with international standards.
ACJPS reiterates previous calls to the Government of Sudan to immediately end its policies of pre- and post- print censorship of newspapers, which severely circumscribes the availability of information in the public sphere and hinders freedom of expression and access to information. We recommend that the Sudanese Government provide compensation to the various newspapers for financial loss incurred as a result of the confiscations.
Read full report here.
Published on the ACJPS on February 7, 2018
UN Committee tells Cameroon to put an end to torture by security forces in the fight against Boko Haram
Cameroon must act swiftly on the recommendations published today by the UN Committee against Torture and put an end to the widespread use of torture by security forces fighting Boko Haram, Amnesty International said.
The Committee expressed deep concerns about the use of secret torture chambers documented by Amnesty International in July, and its failure to clarify whether investigations were being carried into these allegations, as well as other reports of killings of civilians and enforced disappearances.
“With the Committee against Torture now also demanding an end to the use of torture in Cameroon, it is becoming impossible for the world to ignore the widespread practice of torture in the country,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.
“The clamour for justice is growing and Cameroonian authorities should respond by taking these reports of torture far more seriously and launching an independent and efficient investigation into these horrific practices.”
Based on submissions from organisations including Amnesty International, the UN Committee noted that large numbers of people from Cameroon’s Far North region are likely to have been held incommunicado and tortured by members of the military and the intelligence services in at least 20 illegal detention facilities between 2013 and 2017.
The Committee also raised concerns that this torture took place with the likely knowledge of senior BIR and intelligence officers at one military base, and that dozens of people may have died following torture and inhuman conditions of detention.
In its recommendations the Committee called on Cameroon to publish a declaration from the highest state level affirming an absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment and put an end to the practice of incommunicado detention.
It also called for effective, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture, incommunicado detention and death in custody, and for alleged perpetrators and accomplices of such acts, including those in command responsibility, be prosecuted and sentenced in proportion to the seriousness of the offences.
Elsewhere in its concluding observations, the UN Committee also echoed concerns raised by Amnesty International and others in relation to human rights violations committed in the Anglophone regions of the country, including by demanding an investigation into the deaths of at least 20 people killed in October in clashes between the security forces and protestors.
The Committee criticized the failure of Cameroon to provide information on the number of people still detained following protests in the regions, or whether investigations had been launched into the excessive use of force.
UN experts also noted their concerns that journalists such as RFI correspondent Ahmed Abba had been charged under counter-terrorism laws, and that some had been subjected to torture while in detention. The Committee also criticized the regular use of military courts in trials of civilians.
“The UN’s anti-torture experts have recognised that there is a major problem in Cameroon, and their warnings should be heeded. There should be no tolerance of human rights violations like torture, and we hope that the Cameroonian authorities and international community will respond to this report with the seriousness it deserves,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
On 7-8 November, the Committee against Torture convened in Geneva, where among other things it completed a two-day review of Cameroon’s fifth periodic report on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture covering the period 2010-2015.
The Committee – which is comprised of 10 independent experts – engaged in a dialogue with the Cameroonian delegation which included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Police, and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva. Cameroon is among the 162 state parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Published on AI on December 6, 2017
Amnesty International is alarmed by reports it has received of a wave of enforced disappearances that have taken place over recent days, particularly of activists in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, and calls upon the Pakistani authorities to immediately carry out independent and effective investigations with a view to determining the fate and whereabouts of all missing people. Where they are in the custody of the state to either release them or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence. Anyone reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for enforced disappearances must be held to account through fair trials.
While some of the people who were reported to have been disappeared have been returned home over recent days, there are credible reports that others still remain missing. Enforced disappearances are a blight on Pakistan’s human rights record, with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases reported across the country over the past several years. Victims of enforced disappearances are at considerable risk of torture and other ill-treatment and even death. To date, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice.
The Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017, by far the largest number in a three month period in recent years.
After its last visit to Pakistan, in 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, noted that there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.” Amnesty International notes that this situation has not improved over the past five years.
Pakistan’s authorities must publicly condemn enforced disappearances, recognize enforced disappearances as a distinct and autonomous offence, and call for an end to this cruel and inhumane practice. Pakistan has thus far failed to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – a glaring omission that casts an unflattering light on the country’s claims to be committed to the highest human rights standards.
The UN Human Rights Committee - the treaty-monitory body that oversees how States implement and comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – took note of Pakistan’s record on enforced disappearances and recommended that the country: “Criminalize enforced disappearance and put an end to the practice of enforced disappearance and secret detention,” and “Ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings are promptly and thoroughly investigated; all perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crimes”.
On October 16, Pakistan became one of 15 states elected by the UN General Assembly to serve as members of the UN Human Rights Council, from January 2018 to December 2020. In its election pledges, Pakistan said that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
For that claim to be taken seriously, and for Pakistan to fulfil “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” expected of all Council members, it must make ending enforced disappearances a priority and hold all suspected perpetrators - including military and intelligence personnel – to account, through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.
Once confined to the restive territories of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan, enforced disappearances have spread to other parts of the country, including urban centres and major cities. In early January 2017, five human rights defenders were abducted from the capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab province. Four of the defenders returned to their homes between 27 and 29 January. Two of the defenders have since said that they were threatened, intimidated and tortured by people they believed to belong to military intelligence.
After the last Universal Periodic Review in 2012, Pakistan’s government made a commitment to take “effective measures against enforced disappearances” and to “combat impunity for all those who attack human rights defenders”. Later this month, when Pakistan’s human rights record is subject to scrutiny again, the government must finally take urgent steps to turn those commitments into reality.
Published on Amnesty International on November 6, 2017.
Rwanda’s military has routinely unlawfully detained and tortured detainees with beatings, asphyxiations, mock executions, and electric shocks, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 91-page report, “‘We Will Force You to Confess’: Torture and Unlawful Military Detention in Rwanda,” documents unlawful detention in military camps and widespread and systematic torture by the military. Human Rights Watch found that judges and prosecutors ignored complaints from current and former detainees about the unlawful detention and ill-treatment, creating an environment of total impunity. Rwandan authorities and United Nations bodies should investigate immediately.
“Research over a number of years demonstrates that military officials in Rwanda can use torture whenever they please,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Impunity for unlawful detention and the systematic use of torture has led many victims to give up all hope for justice.”
Human Rights Watch has confirmed 104 cases of people who were illegally detained, and in many cases tortured or ill-treated, in Rwandan military detention centers between 2010 and 2016. The total number is most likely much higher, due to the secret nature of the abuses and many former detainees’ fear of reprisals. Human Rights Watch has received several credible reports of cases in 2017, indicating that these violations have continued.
Most victims appear to have been detained on suspicion of being members of, or working with, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, FDLR). Some members of the predominantly Rwandan Hutu armed opposition group, based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The group has committed, and continues to commit, horrific abuses against Congolese civilians in eastern Congo, sometimes in alliance with Congolese armed groups.
Other victims were accused of collaborating with the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an opposition group in exile composed mainly of former members of Rwanda’s ruling party, or with Victoire Ingabire, president of the Forces démocratiques unifiées (FDU)-Inkingi, a banned opposition party. Ingabire is serving a 15-year prison sentence for conspiracy to undermine the government and genocide denial.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 61 former detainees and more than 160 family members and friends of people who were tortured between 2010 and 2016, as well as government and military officials, some of whom requested anonymity. Human Rights Watch also observed the trials of seven groups of people who said they were tortured while held unlawfully at military detention centers, and reviewed court statements regarding 21 illegal detention cases and statements given in court by 22 people.
In the cases documented, detainees were held at unofficial military detention centers, including the Defence Ministry (known as MINADEF), Kami military camp, Mukamira military camp, a military base known as the “Gendarmerie,” detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba, and private homes used as detention centers. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any Rwandan laws or statutes allowing detention at these locations.
The Rwandan government did not reply to numerous letters from Human Rights Watch presenting the findings and requesting a response to specific questions. However, the government has publicly asserted, on multiple occasions, that unofficial detention does not exist in Rwanda. With regard to Kami military camp, which is consistently identified as a location where authorities have interrogated and tortured detainees, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said in March 2016, during a review before the UN Human Rights Committee, that “no interrogation of suspects is carried out” and “no people are imprisoned there.”
Many of the detainees, including civilians and former FDLR combatants, were arrested in Rwanda by Rwandan soldiers, sometimes assisted by police, intelligence, or local government officials. Others were arrested and ill-treated in neighboring Burundi or Congo, some while being processed through the demobilization and repatriation program supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo. They were then illegally transferred to Rwanda, where they were abused.
In most cases, victims were interrogated, ill-treated or tortured, and forced to sign confessions, often based on fabricated allegations, while they were victims of an enforced disappearance. They were then eventually taken before prosecutors, who often pressured suspects to confirm their confessions and, to the best of Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, did not investigate alleged abuses during detention. Some detainees were released as suddenly and as arbitrarily as they had been arrested, often in groups, without any charges or judicial procedure.
Many said that torture sessions began immediately when they arrived at the military detention center. Many were handcuffed while soldiers slapped and punched them or beat them with sticks. “[When we arrived] at Kami, I was still blindfolded,” one former detainee said. “They told me to lie on the ground. Two soldiers stood on me, one on my head and one on my feet. They stood on me and beat me. Then they made me curl up into a ball, tied me up, and pulled my legs and arms. They did this for hours and kept telling me to confess.”
If the suspect failed to give the soldiers the answers they wanted, the beatings continued, often several times a day. Other detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, and tying objects to men’s genitals. Some detainees’ hands were handcuffed to their legs for months on end, with soldiers only taking the handcuffs off so the men could use the toilet. Many former detainees told Human Rights Watch, prosecutors, or judges that they signed false statements because they could not stand the torture or believed they would die.
The violations are a clear breach of Rwandan and international law, which absolutely prohibit enforced disappearances, arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention, and the use of torture and other ill-treatment. Under international law, torture and enforced disappearances are crimes subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning any country may prosecute them irrespective of where the crimes took place or the nationality of abuser or victim.
On June 30, 2015, Rwanda ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, allowing visits to detention sites by the protocol’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. The protocol requires governments to set up a national mechanism to prevent torture at the domestic level. The Rwandan government has yet to create it, despite a deadline of one year after ratification. However, a process to establish the mechanism has started. There are indications that Rwanda’s National Commission for Human Rights will manage it. In 2003 the commission investigated some cases of people held in military detention, but has shown a reluctance to do so in recent years.
Human Rights Watch wrote to the commission in January and August, 2017, to share information on torture cases and to request a response to specific questions, but got no response. The commission should demonstrate the independence and courage to investigate these sensitive cases if the national preventive mechanism is to be anything more than a cover for these crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
The subcommittee plans a state visit to Rwanda in mid-October. The Committee Against Torture, the body established by the Convention against Torture to monitor compliance by state parties, will review Rwanda’s compliance later in 2017. The subcommittee should visit areas of unlawful detention and torture, and the committee should ensure that Rwanda takes torture allegations seriously and carries out credible investigations, Human Rights Watch said.
Failing a serious effort by the Rwandan government to confront systematic torture, donors should evaluate financial and other support, including training and capacity-building, to institutions directly involved in these violations.
“The Rwandan government has every right to protect its citizens from armed groups like the FDLR, but allowing the military to commit heinous crimes only creates mistrust in the government,” Sawyer said. “To demonstrate its respect for the rule of law, and to put an end to these horrible practices, the government should immediately investigate and prosecute those responsible for unlawful detention and torture.”
Published on HRW on October 10, 2017
Narges Mohammadi Calls on MPs to End the “Illegal” Torture of Solitary Confinement in Iran’s Prisons
Imprisoned prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has called on members of Iran’s Parliament to investigate and end the “illegal” practice of solitary confinement of prisoners.
“As a defender of human rights who has been tortured by this practice, I consider it my duty to take every opportunity to express my protest against solitary confinement, the suffering victims of which I continue to see in Evin Prison,” wrote Narges Mohammadi in a letter from the prison where she is serving a 16-year sentence for peacefully advocating for human rights.
“I am sure you are aware that under the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and based on the opinion of the Supreme Administrative Court, keeping suspects in solitary confinement is not only illegal, but also a clear violation of the constitutional and basic human rights and dignity of prisoners, instituted by the security and judicial agencies without rules or limits,” she wrote.
Article 39 of Iran’s Constitution forbids “all affronts to the dignity and repute of persons arrested, detained, imprisoned, or banished.”
The letter, published by the Defenders of Human Rights Center on October 8, 2017, addressed members of Parliament’s Article 90 Committee, which is authorized by the Constitution to investigate citizens’ complaints against the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state.
In her letter, Mohammadi—a 45-year-old mother of twins who is currently being held in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward—mentioned 15 other cellmates who she said have spent a total of 140 months in solitary confinement throughout different periods of their incarceration.
Mohammadi also listed examples of abuse and suffering that she said have occurred while prisoners have been held in solitary confinement:
– Death under interrogation (Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Baniyaghoub, Sattar Beheshti…).
– Sexual and other assaults.
– Diseases and ailments, especially psychological disorders.
– Extraction of false confessions under psychological pressure, which are used to justify heavy prison sentences.
Mohammadi called on the MPs to:
“A) Form a committee to study the legal and security aspects of this phenomenon and the continuation of this illegal and inhuman practice by the judicial and security agencies without any oversight.
“B) Investigate the human aspects of this method of torture and its terrible impact and harm on people. Invite the victims who have experienced solitary confinement, listen to their stories and present a report to the public in an open session of Parliament. Then use all your legal authority to put a stop and end to this inhumane method of torture.”
Winner of the 2011 Per Anger Prize for her defense of human rights in Iran, Mohammadi was first arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and “propaganda against the state.”
Upon appeal, her sentence was reduced to six years behind bars and she was released from Zanjan Prison in 2013 on medical grounds.
Mohammadi was arrested again on May 5, 2015, two months after meeting with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief at the time, at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran to discuss the situation of human rights in Iran.
In September 2016, Branch 26 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld a 16-year prison sentence for “membership in the [now banned] Defenders of Human Rights Center,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the state.”
Mohammadi will be eligible for release after serving 10 years in prison.
After Hassan Rouhani’s second-term victory in Iran’s May 2017 presidential election, Mohammadi called on him to build the foundations for civil society in Iran.
“As a citizen who voted for you, I should and will be insistent on seeking my demands,” she wrote. “I am an imprisoned civil rights activist, but I am not asking you to free me. I want to see [the dream for] a civil society come true. That is my demand.”
Published on the Center for Human Rights in Iran on October 14, 2017.