The United Nations Human Rights Council should create an independent, international inquiry into abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch and 61 other national, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said today in a letter to council member countries.
Parties to the conflict continue to commit serious violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, the organizations said. Yemen is home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 7 million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition supporting it have failed to impartially and transparently investigate alleged abuses by their forces.
“What was a steady drumbeat of support for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses has become a crescendo,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council member countries should live up to their own mandate, heed these calls, and put in place a body to begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen’s war.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of OCHA, the UN’s lead humanitarian agency, and the Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen have also called for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses. They have been joined in the call by dozens of Yemeni organizations from areas under the control of both Houthi-Saleh forces and of the Yemeni government.
Since March 2015, the UN human rights office has specifically verified that at least 5,110 civilians have been killed and 8,719 wounded during the conflict, but believes “[t]he overall number is probably much higher.”
Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, and Houthi-Saleh forces have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in cities such as Taizz and Aden, that may also amount to war crimes. Both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists and other people, with the number of the “missing” growing across Yemen. Both sides have used widely banned weapons that can endanger civilians long after a conflict ends and have impeded the delivery of aid.
The Human Rights Council in 2015 and 2016 failed to create an international inquiry into Yemen abuses, instead endorsing processes that have – over the course of two years – failed to provide the impartial, independent, and transparent investigations needed to address the gravity of violations in Yemen. The 62 organizations that signed the letter urged the council to establish an independent, international inquiry with the mandate to establish the facts and circumstances, collect and preserve evidence, and clarify responsibility for alleged violations and abuses with a view to providing accountability in the long-term.
“Council member countries have twice capitulated to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition and failed to take a principled stance in the face of repeated war crimes and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Fisher said. “Governments this September should not cave to political pressure, but instead respond in a way that best helps the Yemeni people and ensures that the council lives up to its mandate by promoting accountability regardless of the parties involved.”
Published on HRW on August 29, 2017.
By Audrey Wabwire
One hot Tuesday afternoon last January, about 10 South Sudanese government soldiers came to Elizabeth’s village, Romoji, in Kajo Keji county, near the Ugandan border. Many of the farming villages in her area have become the front lines of South Sudan’s four-year civil war.
“The soldiers came close to the house around 4:00 pm,” said Elizabeth, a tall, slender woman in her thirties. “I was cooking at home when my son told me that soldiers had come. My husband Kristofer went outside the house to check. They shot him.”
When her two sons, aged 10 and 5, went out to check on their father, the soldiers shot them dead too. Elizabeth (not her real name), ran from her home, hearing soldiers firing their guns. One soldier chased her and caught her. He was tall, like the rest of them. He did not speak to her, but threatened her with a knife and twisted her arm, breaking it. Elizabeth believes he wanted to kill her, though she’s not sure what stopped him. “Maybe they let me go because they had already killed 3 people,” she says.
Despite a 2015 peace agreement, fighting between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces has spread to the country’s southern Greater Equatorias region, which had been somewhat insulated from the war until late 2015 when it began to spread.
As in elsewhere in South Sudan, the fighting split communities down ethnic lines – with mostly Dinka government troops and armed militia targeting the mostly non-Dinka communities they suspected of supporting the rebels.
The violence and abuses – largely committed by government forces during counter-insurgency operations in western parts of the country and in the southern Equatorias region – have displaced hundreds of thousands in the last year alone, mostly to Uganda, which now hosts almost a million South Sudanese.
Since the conflict started in December 2013, igniting in Juba and spreading north, more than 2 million people fled to neighboring countries with another 2 million displaced internally, making South Sudan the largest humanitarian disaster in Africa today.
Soon after this attack, Elizabeth’s mother and her 3 remaining children fled to Uganda. Elizabeth told Human Rights Watch how she hid in a riverbed nearby for four days, drinking water with one hand because her other arm was broken. She said she ate soil to survive. When she came out of hiding, her village was abandoned. She managed to find transport with assistance from the UN, and came to Uganda, where she now lives with her family as a refugee.
Elizabeth’s past torments her and her future hangs in the balance. In May 2017, when Human Rights Watch spoke with Elizabeth, she could not stop crying. Five months later, she is clearly still traumatized – not just psychologically but physically: her arm hangs limp by her side and it is difficult for her to find a way to care for her family. She worries about finding food and does not sleep at night, she says.
When she pauses in her story, Elizabeth stares listlessly into the horizon. “My husband was a farmer, why did they kill him? With one arm, how do I care for the children and my mother? I want to commit suicide,” she says.
Although the camp offers some security, no one truly feels safe. Family members who dare to venture across the border to collect food from home face further attacks. Elizabeth walks back to her tent to prepare an evening meal for her children, a task she used to enjoy, but now struggles to perform.
Published on HRW on August 1, 2017.
India’s top court ruled Thursday that privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen, in a landmark judgment that could affect the country’s mammoth identity card system.
The verdict was in response to many petitions filed in courts questioning the validity of assigning a biometric identity card to every individual. The government has made the identity card mandatory for all citizens to receive welfare benefits, but human rights groups raised concerns about the risk of personal data being misused.
“This is a very progressive judgment that endorses and protects the fundamental rights of the people,” said Soli Sorabjee, a leading lawyer and former attorney general of India.
The ruling overturns two earlier decisions by smaller benches of the Supreme Court, which said privacy was not a fundamental right. On Thursday, a nine-judge bench of the court unanimously ruled that the right to privacy is intrinsic to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
The decision is viewed as a setback to the government’s efforts to make the ID card compulsory. The government will now have to convince the court that forcing citizens to give their fingerprints and a scan of their iris is not a violation of privacy.
The opposition Congress party welcomed the decision, saying the verdict is a victory for individual rights and human dignity.
The verdict “strikes a blow on the unbridled encroachment and surveillance by the state and its agencies on the life” of each citizen, party president Sonia Gandhi said in a statement.
Rights activists hailed the verdict as a win for individual freedom.
“The right to privacy that the court has defended today is essential to ensure individual autonomy, and is closely linked to the exercise of several other rights, from what people say online to whom they love and what they eat,” said Asmita Basu of Amnesty International India.
Published on AP on August 25, 2017 .(apnews.com/12c1222843d24573a74388c3f68d1f69/Top-court-says-privacy-the-fundamental-right-of-every-Indian)