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
Turkish authorities have detained and prosecuted large numbers of people in recent weeks over social media posts criticizing Turkey’s military operation in the northwest Syrian district of Afrin, Human Rights Watch said today. The crackdown violates the right to peaceful expression.According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, authorities detained 648 people between January 20 and February 26, 2018, over social media posts criticizing Turkey’s military operations in Afrin. Authorities held another 197 people for expressing criticism in other forms, including street protests or expressing solidarity with protesters on social media. The Interior Ministry has indicated that more criminal investigations have been opened since the end of February.
“Detaining and prosecuting people for tweets calling for peace is a new low for Turkey’s government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish authorities should respect people’s right to peacefully criticize any aspect of government policy, including military operations, and drop these absurd cases.”
This most recent social media crackdown has targeted a wide range of people, affecting journalists; human rights activists; politicians, including four members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish HDP opposition party; members of nongovernmental organizations; academics; construction workers; physicians; and high school and university students.
Human Rights Watch has examined in detail five cases of criminal investigations and prosecutions over tweets related to Afrin, involving a journalist, a politician, a documentary maker, an LGBT activist, and a member of a human rights organization, as well as one conviction of a physician for an earlier case of nonviolent speech on social media. Human Rights Watch examined interrogation protocols, indictments, and court rulings, and interviewed three people who are under criminal investigation for sharing nonviolent content on social media, as well as 10 human rights lawyers working on social media cases.
After examining the cases, Human Rights Watch believes that some of the police raids and criminal investigations are being used as a form of punishment rather than out of genuine belief that criminal behavior has occurred. Even if a case does not go to trial or ends in acquittal, people labeled as terrorism suspects face adverse consequences due to police investigations and criminal proceedings, including possible loss of employment and social exclusion.
On February 7, Harlem Désir, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s representative on media freedom, criticized the detention of hundreds of social media users for their opposition to the Afrin operation as “unacceptable.” The European Parliament condemned Turkish authorities’ repression of dissenting views on the military incursion in a resolution on February 8.
In addition to police action over social media posts relating to the Afrin operation, the police have targeted people and groups for publishing statements and organizing news conferences to protest the offensive. They include 11 senior members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), including its chairman, Raşit Tükel; Mithat Can, the 73-year-old head of the Hatay branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD); and senior members of the rights group People’s Houses, including its co-chair, Dilşat Aktaş, all of whom are currently under criminal investigation.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly criticized the arbitrary use of overbroad antiterrorism legislation in Turkey to punish nonviolent activities, including critical writing and online activism, in violation of the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch research has also found that investigations and prosecutions for terrorism-related offenses in Turkey often lack concrete evidence and fail to adhere to due process.
The criminalization of peaceful speech on the internet has a chilling effect on social media use and has led to increased self-censorship. According to a 2017 report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, the use of Facebook and Twitter in Turkey have both declined, possibly due to fears of government surveillance. Some of those Human Rights Watch interviewed said that people in Turkey now think twice before posting or reacting to online content criticizing the government.
According to transparency reports published by Twitter, Turkey was the world leader in requests to remove accounts or content – so-called “take down” requests – between 2014 and mid-2017. According to the nongovernmental organization Freedom House, internet freedom in Turkey has steadily deteriorated, with its Freedom Net Overall Score slipping by 21 points, from 45 in 2011 to 66 in 2017, with the higher score meaning more violations.
“There is no justification for Turkish authorities using the criminal justice system against peaceful critics,” Williamson said. “The Turkish government needs to tolerate dissenting views in society, even if they are sharply opposed to its own.”
Activists Prosecuted for Social Media Posts
Nurcan Baysal, a journalist and human rights activist, is on bail awaiting trial on charges of “inciting hatred and enmity among the population” for posting a number of tweets criticizing the Turkish military incursion into Afrin on her personal Twitter account. If convicted, she faces up to three years in jail. None of the eight tweets listed in the indictment, seen by Human Rights Watch, promote or incite violence. On the contrary, the posts criticize war and the use of violence. Baysal, who spent three days in police custody, described the late-night raid on her house when she was detained:
Despite the fact that I was visible from the outside – I was watching TV at the time – they tried to break in the door without ringing the doorbell. About 20 policemen entered my house wearing masks and trained their automatic rifles on me.
Mehmet Türkmen, deputy head of the Labor Party of Turkey (EMEP), a leftist political party with no seats in Parliament, was detained at the airport in Gaziantep by anti-terror police on January 28 over a January 20 Facebook post in which he stated his opposition to the Afrin offensive. His post, illustrated with a photograph of a street demonstration in the city of Afrin and of a TV screen showing Turkish coverage of the military operation, does not promote violence in any way. The post ends with: “Everyone in Turkey and the region who is on the side of friendship between peoples and peace has to say ‘No’ to this war.” He was arrested on January 31, facing charges of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization.” He remained in detention pending trial as of March 26.
Ali Erol, a well-known LGBT rights activist, was among 16 people detained in Ankara on February 2 for their online criticism of the Afrin military operation. Erol is co-founder of the Ankara-based LBGT rights group Kaos GL. The police questioned Erol about one tweet and two retweets, none of which promoted violence. The tweet, posted on his timeline on January 21, shows a picture of a poster reading “Shame on you,” hung in an olive tree, a reference to the official Turkish name of the Afrin offensive, “Operation Olive Branch.” Above the picture Erol had listed the hashtags: “NOToWarInAfrin,” “NoToWar,” and “Olive.” He is being investigated for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “inciting hatred and enmity among the population.” He was conditionally released after five days in police custody. The Fifth Ankara Peace Court imposed a travel ban and required him to sign in at his local police station every Monday. One of Erol’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that during the time Erol spent in police custody, the police took no action to collect additional evidence:
There was no reason for Ali Erol to remain in police custody for five days. This leads me to believe that the custody itself is used to intimidate and punish people for criticizing the military operation in Afrin.
Sibel Tekin, a documentary filmmaker, was detained on February 2 in a morning raid on her Ankara home on accusations of terrorism propaganda. The police questioned Tekin about four tweets and five retweets, made from the shared Twitter account of a citizen journalist video collective she has occasionally been involved in. The tweets, none of which promoted violence, for the most part reported on police repression of peaceful protests against the Afrin offensive and on detentions of protesters. Other tweets included critical analyses of the military incursion. Tekin did not write any of the Twitter posts she was questioned over. She was released under judicial supervision on February 5.
Kutay Meriç, an executive member of People’s Houses (Halk Evleri), a human rights group, was detained on February 13 during a police raid on his home in Antalya over several of his Facebook posts criticizing the military operation in Afrin, none of which promote or praise violence. Seven days later the First Antalya Peace Court ordered his pretrial detention on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization.” He was later released pending trial on February 28.
Others subject to criminal investigation over social media posts on Afrin include at least four members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Turkish media reported that the head prosecutor in Ankara has announced criminal investigations against the four for their social media posts criticizing the Afrin operation. On March 7, the Ankara head prosecutor sent applications to the Justice Ministry to investigate three more of the party’s parliament members for “terrorism propaganda” via their social media accounts.
Social Media Crackdown
Turkey has a long tradition of misusing the criminal justice system and overbroad terrorism laws to prosecute journalists, activists, and other government critics. Prosecutors have repeatedly applied articles of the law such as, “inciting hatred and enmity among the population,” and “spreading terrorist propaganda” to intimidate and silence peaceful dissent both on- and offline.
Due to sustained government attacks on independent and critical media, Turkish citizens have increasingly taken to social media to get and share information, which in turn has prompted increased online surveillance and censorship by the authorities.
The recent detention and prosecution of online critics intensifies a crackdown on freedom of speech online that has been going on for several years. Internet censorship also has an extended history in Turkey. Human Rights Watch has documented the arbitrary and disproportionate blocking of entire websites in violation of the right to freedom of speech and the right to access information online. Following the start of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin on January 20, peaceful speech on social media has become the main target for arbitrary terrorism charges and criminal investigations.
The northwest Syrian district of Afrin is under the control of the Syrian Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and their armed forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the Turkish government regards as a terrorist organization. On March 18, the Turkish government claimed that it had taken control of Afrin city.
Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers suggest that people who make critical statements on social media are increasingly being investigated for an alleged “membership of an armed terrorist organization,” rather than association or propaganda offenses, with the evidence cited against them consisting of nothing but their opinions expressed on social media, shared use of hashtags, or the fact that they are part of the same civil society group. Suspects under investigation on charges of membership in armed organizations are more frequently placed in pretrial detention, due to the gravity of the charge, and face longer sentences if found guilty.
A prominent human rights defender and medical doctor, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, was sentenced by the 2nd Kocaeli Heavy Penalty Court to two years and six months in prison on February 21 for social media posts about the Kurdish issue and the breakdown of the peace process in 2015. He has appealed the verdict.
The evidence cited against him consisted of several posts promoting an end to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and demanding peace on his social media accounts in 2016. None of them advertised or encouraged violence. The one tweet cited in the detailed ruling, seen by Human Rights Watch, consisted of a link to a news article published on the Turkish online news website T24 illustrated with a photograph of three armed PKK militants and headlined: “PKK: If the government takes a step forward, peace will come in one month.” The judge listed the headline and the photograph, both editorial choices made by T24, as reasons for a terrorism propaganda conviction. The detailed ruling also falsely identifies Gergerlioğlu as the author of the article.
Gergerlioğlu was the subject of an intense smear campaign by pro-government media during the criminal investigation and trial, and was dismissed from his job at the Izmit Seka State Hospital before his conviction. Gergerlioğlu told Human Rights Watch: “I have always promoted peace. During the peace process I was praised by the government for saying this, and now I was turned into a criminal for still saying the exact same things.”
Published on HRW on March 27, 2018
Members of the Honduran security forces, in particular the military police, used excessive – including lethal – force to control and disperse protests that erupted following November’s disputed presidential election, a report the UN Human Rights Office said on Monday.
The report details human rights violations that happened between voting day on 26 November and the presidential inauguration on 27 January. It found that at least 22 civilians and one police officer were killed during the protests. Of these, at least 16 people, including two women and two children, were shot dead by the security forces. The report also documents the killing of 15 individuals in the run-up to the elections, including party candidates, municipal councillors and activists.
While some of the protesters became violent, the report notes that, “analysis of the type of injuries suffered by the victims indicate that the security forces made intentional lethal use of firearms, including beyond dissuasive or self-defense (legitimate) purposes, such as when protestors were fleeing.” This was illustrated by the deaths of seven individuals who received shots to the head.
“These cases raise serious concerns and may amount to extra-judicial killings,” the report says. According to information received, by 27 January, no charges had been brought against any member of the security forces in relation to the killings and injuries.
In addition, some 1,351 people were detained between 1 and 5 December for violating a curfew imposed as part of a state of emergency declared on 1 December. The state of emergency’s imprecise and broad grounds for detaining people, including those “somehow suspected” of causing damage or committing crimes, went beyond what was required by the situation, resulting in mass and indiscriminate arrests, and discouraging people from exercising the right to peaceful assembly and of association.
The report also highlights “credible and consistent allegations of ill-treatment of persons at the time of arrest and/or detention,” illegal house raids, and a surge in “threats and intimidation against journalists, media workers, and social and political activists.”
The human rights violations described in the report, took place “in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état and significant delays to undertake critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms.” The report urges the Honduran Government to engage in a participatory national dialogue on reforms to promote development, human rights and reconciliation.
“The already fragile human rights situation in Honduras, which suffers from high levels of violence and insecurity, is likely to deteriorate further unless there is true accountability for human rights violations, and reforms are taken to address the deep political and social polarization in the country,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Among its recommendations, the report calls on the authorities to restrict the use of of the military police and armed forces in law enforcement functions, and to regulate the use of force by all security and law enforcement agencies, in line with applicable international human rights norms and standards. There should be prompt, impartial, independent and transparent investigations into all allegations of human rights violations that took place in the context of the elections, the report recommends.
Published on OHCHR on March 12, 2018