“As pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists, we care about the health and dignity of all children,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrote in response to a report on intersex youth that Human Rights Watch launched in July.
This weekend, as the AAP, an organization of 66,000 pediatricians across the United States, convenes in Chicago for their annual gathering, we urge members to stand by this commitment and discuss establishing clear AAP guidelines to protect intersex kids across the country.
Intersex people – whose chromosomes, gonads, and sex organs don’t match up with what is generally considered typically “female” or “male” – make up nearly two percent of the human population.
One of the reasons we hear so little about intersex people is that doctors often perform surgery on them when they are still infants to make their bodies appear more unambiguously “female” or “male.” Some physicians argue that the irreversible interventions make it easier for kids to grow up “normal” or avoid bullying or harassment. But the results are often catastrophic, and the supposed benefits largely unproven. It is rare that urgent health considerations require immediate, irreversible intervention.
One of the many risks of doctors operating on children’s gonads, internal sex organs, and genitals when they are too young to participate in the decision is that a sex is assigned that does not match the individual’s lived gender identity as it develops. Other risks include incontinence, sterilization, loss of sexual sensation, scarring, and psychological trauma.
In our report, we recommended the AAP develop a policy on medically unnecessary and non-consensual surgeries on intersex children that is consistent with APP standards on Assent, Informed Permission and Consent, and on female genital mutilation.
Chicago’s LGBT center, the Center on Halsted, has welcomed the AAP to the city and encouraged them to endorse a moratorium on medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex kids. Human Rights Watch and interACT are joined by United Nations experts, the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, every major LGBT legal organization in the US, three former US surgeons general, and intersex-led organizations around the world in calling for an end to medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on intersex kids. The American Medical Association Board of Trustees this year recommended respect for intersex children’s rights to autonomy and informed consent.
(Washington, DC) – The US government should use its authority under the Global Magnitsky Act to impose financial sanctions and visa bans on foreign human rights abusers and those responsible for corrupt practices, Human Rights Watch and 22 other organizations said today.
In a letter on September 12, 2017, to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the organizations provided detailed information about 15 individuals from around the world who should be considered for sanctions under the law, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
“The Global Magnitsky Act is a powerful tool that allows the US to hold human rights abusers to account when their own governments fail to do so,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Would-be rights violators and kleptocrats around the world should now think twice before committing serious abuses and corruption.”
Human Rights Watch also issued a question-and-answer document on the Global Magnitsky Act, which was based on the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed sanctions and visa bans on Russian officials considered responsible for serious human rights violations.
The Global Magnitsky Act was enacted on December 23, 2016, and allows the US to impose financial and property sanctions, or block or revoke visas, for foreign individuals or entities responsible for gross human rights violations. It permits similar action against those responsible for significant acts of corruption. The cases proposed by Human Rights Watch and the other organizations include foreign officials implicated in murder, torture, sexual assault, enforced disappearances, extortion, and bribery.
On September 8, President Donald Trump formally delegated authority to the treasury secretary to impose economic sanctions, and to the secretary of state to impose visa bans, paving the way for sanctions to be issued under the act.
“President Trump should act on his apparent willingness to make use of the Global Magnitsky Act to hold abusers abroad to account,” Prasow said. “Visa bans and asset freezes can be a strong deterrent for some officials, especially if other countries adopt similar laws.”
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government should not carry out its threats to imminently return a group of ethnic Montagnards to Vietnam, Human Rights Watch said today. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNHCR) says they are refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution if sent back. Sending them back would violate Cambodia’s international and domestic legal obligations.
Cambodia’s Interior Ministry has wrongly denied the claims of the 29 Montagnard refugees and is failing to cooperate with the UNHCR’s efforts to resettle them. The Cambodian government has not carried out a joint review process under which the UNHCR was to join a review of the government’s first-instance rejection decision. Cambodia then refused a UNHCR offer to relocate the refugees to a third country.
“Under no circumstances should Cambodia force these refugees back to Vietnam, where they would face severe persecution on political and religious grounds,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “If the government forces them back to Vietnam, Cambodia’s reputation as a regional leader in protecting the rights of refugees will be left in tatters.”
Members of the group reported receiving threats that they would be imprisoned if they ever tried to flee abroad so now they have great concerns about what sort of reception they will receive if returned to Vietnam.
One Montagnard in Phnom Penh who was imprisoned in Vietnam before fleeing to Cambodia told Human Rights Watch his fear of being returned: “They will not let me live in peace, they will arrest me, and they will do even more to me than they did before. They will say good words to try to convince people to go back. But when they go back they will be arrested. I know because I was in jail already.”
In mid-August 2017, a group of Cambodian Interior Ministry officials, including senior Refugee Department staff, traveled with Vietnamese authorities to some villages in Vietnam where family members of the asylum seekers in Cambodia live. Montagnard and nongovernmental group sources told Human Rights Watch that the officials intimidated some of the younger relatives to write letters saying it was safe for their relatives to return to Vietnam.
In April 2017, a Montagnard asylum-seeker who was returned to Vietnam from Cambodia was detained and interrogated for 12 days by Vietnamese authorities. In May, a video recording emerged on Vietnamese television of apparently forced confessions by Montagnards who claimed to be returned refugees
Vietnam imposes criminal penalties on dissenters returned under Article 91 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which provides 3 to 12 years in prison for those who “flee abroad or defect to stay overseas with a view to opposing the people’s administration.” Under that article, “organizers, coercers and instigators” of such movements face 5 to 15 years in prison; and those found to have committed “particularly serious crimes” – not defined – can be imprisoned for 12 to 20 years, or for life.
Vietnam has a long and well-documented history of persecuting Montagnards. Many from these upland ethnic minorities were allied with the French and Americans in Vietnam during the war years between 1946 and 1975, and many adopted Christianity. Since the Communist government assumed power, these groups have faced political persecution, forced repudiation of their faith, shuttering of Christian house churches, and constant monitoring and surveillance by Vietnam police, soldiers, and officials.
In 2005, Human Rights Watch documented the torture of Montagnards who were forced back from Cambodia to Vietnam. They had fled a government crackdown on activists who organized peaceful demonstrations demanding support for religious freedom and a return of their ancestral lands.
In 2015, Human Rights Watch documented intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and mistreatment in custody of Montagnards. Human Rights Watch found that Vietnamese authorities subjected Montagnards to constant surveillance if they were thought to have politically “autonomous thoughts,” or be involved in religious activities the government declared not “pure.” People arrested in this campaign suffered from mistreatment, including interrogations, beatings, and forced disappearances.
In April 2015, four Montagnards who returned to Vietnam from Cambodia disappeared from their village in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, while others familiar with the group were summoned for questioning.
In June 2016, the Cambodian government facilitated visits by Vietnamese officials, including some police officials from the refugees’ home villages, to more than 100 Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia, without their consent. The officials urged the assembled asylum seekers to return to Vietnam and promised to end persecution against them.
Cambodia is a State party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Under these international treaties, Cambodia has an obligation not to return people to countries where they have a well-founded fear of persecution or torture.
A Cambodian government Sub-Decree No. 224/2009 on Procedure for Recognition as a Refugee or Providing Asylum Rights to Foreigners in the Kingdom of Cambodia provides that a refugee “shall not be expelled or returned in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his or her life, freedom or rights would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or particular political opinion.”
To comply with its international obligations, the Cambodian government should refrain from taking any action toward forcibly returning the 29 at-risk Montagnards, and initiate the promised joint review with the UNHCR to ensure a fair determination of their claims for protection.
The Vietnamese government should also immediately cease its systematic political persecution and restrictions on freedom of religion for the Montagnard population in the Central Highlands. Vietnam should permit the UNHCR to exercise its refugee protection mandate, and Hanoi should agree to refrain from pressuring refugees to return home.
“The Cambodian government is required to make sure that these Montagnard refugees are protected, and not to send them back into harm’s way in Vietnam,” Robertson said. “International donors and the UN Country Team for Cambodia should warn the Cambodian government that it will become a refugee rights pariah state if the Montagnards are forced back to Vietnam over the UN refugee agency’s objections.”
(New York) – The United Nations, other multilateral organizations, and countries with influence should press the Burmese government to urgently allow humanitarian aid to reach ethnic Rohingya Muslims at risk in Burma’s Rakhine State. They should also ensure that adequate assistance reaches the more than 270,000 Rohingya and other refugees who have recently fled to Bangladesh.
The Burmese military’s abusive campaign against the Rohingya population was sparked by an August 25, 2017 attack by militants belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which targeted about 30 police posts and an army base. In addition to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, tens of thousands remain displaced within Burma. Another nearly 12,000 people, mainly ethnic Rakhine and other non-Muslims, are also displaced in Rakhine State.
“The humanitarian catastrophe that Burma’s security forces have created in Rakhine State has been multiplied by the authorities’ unwillingness to provide access to humanitarian agencies,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “The United Nations, ASEAN, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation need to ramp up the pressure on Burma and provide more assistance to Bangladesh to promptly help Rohingya and other displaced people.”
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh told Human Rights Watch that Burmese government security forces had carried out armed attacks on villagers, inflicting bullet and shrapnel injuries, and burned down their homes. The killings, shelling, and arson in Rohingya villages have all the hallmarks of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”
International aid activities in much of Rakhine State have been suspended, leaving approximately 250,000 people without food, medical care, and other vital humanitarian assistance. Refugees told Human Rights Watch that while many people from Maungdaw Township could escape to Bangladesh, tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya are still hiding in the areas surrounding Rathedaung and Buthidaung Townships.
The Rohingya in Burma
For decades, the Burmese government has considered the Rohingya, most of whom live in northern Rakhine State, to be foreign nationals from Bangladesh. Just over 1 million Rohingya live in Burma, and they make up a large portion of the country’s relatively small Muslim population. The Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination in Burma based on their exclusion from citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law. As a result, the Rohingya are one of the largest stateless populations in the world.
Since the Rohingya lack citizenship, Burmese police and border guards, and local officials, systematically subject them to a barrage of rights-abusing restrictions. Government laws, policies, and practices prevent Rohingya from freedom of movement to leave their villages; restrict their right to livelihoods; interfere with their privacy rights to marry and have children; and obstruct them from access to basic health services and education.
Even before the recent violence, “[f]ood security indicators and child malnutrition rates in Maungdaw [Township] were already above emergency thresholds,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma. As a result of official restrictions and recurrent military operations against Rohingya communities causing massive displacement, those now affected have been highly dependent on food and other aid distributed by UN agencies and international nongovernmental organizations.
Hostility against aid agencies has grown following government accusations that international aid workers supported the Rohingya militants because some high-energy biscuits distributed by the World Food Program were found in an alleged militant camp in July 2017. Some supply warehouses of international aid groups were reported looted in September, while national and international staff of the UN and international nongovernmental organizations have faced intimidation, according to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
The Rohingya in Bangladesh
About 34,000 officially registered Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh, plus an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 who are unregistered. Another approximately 87,000 people arrived after fleeing military attacks in Rakhine State from October 2016 to March 2017, following ARSA attacks in October. After the state crackdown following the August 2017 ARSA attack, aid workers in Bangladesh think the number of new arrivals will swell to over 300,000.
During the current crisis, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) officials have informally allowed Rohingya into the country. The officials told Human Rights Watch that their primary focus was helping those entering Bangladesh from the no-man’s land area, assisting people with emergency rations, providing medical care, and assisting with sanitation and water needs. They said they were unable to provide assistance to those entering Bangladesh from the many unmonitored points of entry.
Crossing the Naf River during the monsoon is dangerous, and according to border guard officials and other sources, more than two dozen people have drowned trying to cross the border. Those who make it across can only huddle in makeshift tents to seek shelter from the constant downpour of monsoon rains. Hospitals are operating well beyond capacity, and health officials say they fear disease outbreaks as a result of overcrowding and poor sanitation.
A 17-year-old Rohingya refugee in a hospital in Bangladesh with a bullet wound to his arm told Human Rights Watch that he had no idea what will happen to him after he is discharged. He said he had “no family, no friends, no contacts, and no money in Bangladesh.” Border guard officers said that they had already encountered many such cases of unaccompanied children lost in the confusion of flight.
Some Bangladeshi officials have said that the Rohingya refugees are not welcome, noting the severe monsoon flooding in many parts of the country. Since 2016, authorities have proposed to relocate undocumented Rohingya residing in Bangladesh to an uninhabitable atoll in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh has rebuffed international assistance in the past, out of fear that it might serve as a pull factor for Rohingya refugees. However, as is evident from thousands pouring in every day despite the lack of adequate food and shelter, people escape to save their lives. As far as Human Rights Watch is able to determine, the government has largely abstained from pushing back those fleeing Burma. However, the lack of sufficient international support for Bangladesh has contributed to appalling conditions in the border areas.
“The humanitarian situations in Burma and Bangladesh will continue to deteriorate so long as Burmese security forces are carrying out mass atrocities in Rakhine State,” Bolopion said. “The UN Security Council should publicly hold an emergency meeting and demand that the Burmese authorities stop the violence against the Rohingya population and allow aid to flow in, or face sanctions.”
Shamsun Nahar (L), 60, a Rohingya widow who fled from Kha Maung Seik village of Myanmar to Bangladesh alone, whose 30-year-old son is missing, tells her story at Kutupalang Makeshift Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 4, 2017.
(New York) – Ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burmese security forces in Burma’s Rakhine State have described killings, shelling, and arson in their villages that have all the hallmarks of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” Human Rights Watch said today.
Burmese army, police, and ethnic Rakhine armed groups have carried out operations against predominantly Rohingya villages since the August 25, 2017 attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants against about 30 police posts and an army base. Burmese army commander Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing told the media that the government-approved military clearance operations in Rakhine State was “unfinished business” dating back to the Second World War.
The United Nations Security Council should hold a public emergency meeting and warn the Burmese authorities that they will face severe sanctions unless they put an end to the brutal campaign against the Rohingya population.
“Rohingya refugees have harrowing accounts of fleeing Burmese army attacks and watching their villages be destroyed,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Lawful operations against armed groups do not involve burning the local population out of their homes.”
In early September, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 Rohingya refugees who had fled across the border to Bangladesh and obtained detailed accounts from about a dozen people. The Rohingya told Human Rights Watch that Burmese government security forces had carried out armed attacks on villagers, inflicting bullet and shrapnel injuries, and burned down their homes. They described the military’s use of small arms, mortars, and armed helicopters in the attacks.
Human Rights Watch obtained satellite data and images that are consistent with widespread burnings in northern Rakhine State, encompassing the townships of Rathedaung, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw. To date, Human Rights Watch has found 21 unique locations where heat sensing technology on satellites identified significant, large fires. Knowledgeable sources in Bangladesh told Human Rights Watch that they heard the distinctive sounds of heavy and light machine gun fire and mortar shelling in villages just across the border in Burma, and spotted smoke arising from these villages shortly afterward.
The Burmese government has denied security force abuses, claiming that it is engaged in a counterterrorism operation in which nearly 400 people have been killed, most of them suspected militants. The Burmese authorities assert, without substantiating their claims, that militants and Rohingya villagers have burned 6,845 houses across 60 villages in northern Rakhine State. Refugee accounts contradict the claims of Burmese officials.
For example, Momena, a 32-year-old Rohingya woman from Maungdaw Township, said that she fled to Bangladesh on August 26, a day after security forces attacked her village. She first hid with her children when the soldiers arrived, but returning to the village she said she saw 40 to 50 villagers dead, including some children and elderly people: “All had knife wounds or bullet wounds, some had both. My father was among the dead; his neck had been cut open. I was unable to do last rites for my father – I just fled.”
At the Cox’s Bazar hospital, Human Right Watch interviewed several Rohingya with bullet wounds. Some said they were hit while at home, others said they were shot when running for safety from their villages, or while hiding in the fields or hills from Burmese soldiers.
Usman Goni, 20, said that he and five friends were in the hills outside their village, tending cattle, when they were attacked. He saw a helicopter flying overhead and then something fall out of it. He later realized he had been hit by whatever the helicopter dropped. Four of his friends died from fragment injuries while villagers transported Goni to Bangladesh for treatment. The fragments in his torso had not yet been removed when Human Rights Watch met him in the hospital.
Human Rights Watch’s initial investigations of the current situation in Rakhine State are indicative of an ethnic cleansing campaign. Although “ethnic cleansing” is not formally defined under international law, a UN commission of experts has defined the term as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas…. This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.”
“There is no indication that the horrors we and others are uncovering in Rakhine State are letting up,” Ganguly said. “The United Nations and concerned governments need to press Burma right now to end these horrific abuses against the Rohingya as a first step toward restoring Rohingya to their homes.”
Attacks on villages in Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State, based on interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, August 30, 2017 to September 5, 2017
Yasin Ali, 25, said that Burmese security forces attacked his village of Reka Para on August 27. Prior to the attack, tensions had been building in Reka Para and neighboring Rohingya villages as local Rakhine harassed and abused them for months. Ali said: “They would come around to us and say, ‘This is not your land. Don’t cultivate this land, and don’t dare take the food growing on it.’ If we went near their lands, they would beat us with sticks.”
During the August 27 attack, all the villagers went into hiding. Ali said the women and children were sent further away to seek shelter, while the men stayed close by to wait out the attack in the hopes that they could quickly return to the village after the soldiers left. He said he hid by the roadside, about half a kilometer from where the soldiers made their approach. He heard what sounded like mortar shells hitting the village: “I heard boom boom boom, and then I saw the houses just collapse.” After a while, he saw the soldiers advance toward the village, and from his vantage point, he saw that they were carrying small arms and what looked like light machine guns. He also said he saw a mortar system on the shoulder of a soldier, and some apparent mortar rounds the size of a grapefruit.
Ali said that when the soldiers entered the village, they started shooting indiscriminately. He and the other men from the village then decided to run away into the hills for shelter. From the hills, he saw a helicopter painted olive green circle his village four times, and saw something being dropped from the helicopter after which the houses in the village caught fire.
Ali and his family walked to Bangladesh and were allowed to enter by the border guards. They arrived on August 31, and at the time Ali spoke with Human Rights Watch, they were waiting outside trying to sort out where they could get shelter.
Momena, 32, fled her village of Kirgari Para on August 26 with two of her three children. She said that soldiers had previously attacked the village during the military operations in late 2016, but the situation in her village had settled down since then. She described the events that prompted her to flee:
I heard the sounds of fighting around 4 p.m. on Friday [August 25]. There was a lot of noise, worse than before. I saw them [the soldiers] myself as they entered my village. I don’t know how many there were but it looked like a lot to me. I fled with the other villagers and we sheltered in the jungle overnight. When I returned to the village the next morning, after the soldiers had left, I saw about 40 to 50 villagers dead, including some children and some elderly. All had knife wounds or bullet wounds – some had both. My father was among the dead; his neck had been cut open. I was unable to do last rites for my father, I just fled.
Momena said she had to leave her husband and 10-year-old son behind. She has had no news of them since then. Her husband has no mobile phone and other villagers she is in contact with have heard no news of either of them. She heard that her mother is alive but has no idea where she is or how she is.
From her vantage point while hiding in the jungle, Momena said she could see some of the houses in her village burning at night. She believes soldiers set fire to the houses as a warning to the villagers.
Momena said she did not know of any armed Rohingya militants in the village. She had heard some youth in the village talking about resisting, but she never saw anyone take any action on this, there was just talk. She said many young Rohingya men fled into the jungle after the attack.
In addition to bodies found in her village, Momena said she saw several bodies of children in the Naf River at one of the crossing points into Bangladesh.
Momena said that when she and others fleeing with her crossed into Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Border Guards stopped them and said: “We have to stop you but if you shout and insist on entering, we’ll let you in.” She understood this as the guards pretending to obey their orders to refuse refugees entry to Bangladesh, but in practice helping the refugees enter the country.
Khatija Khaton, a widow, lived in the village of Ashikha Mushi with her four children. She said that on August 25, an armed group of ethnic Rakhine youth came to her house and issued vague threats. She recognized them from previous encounters because most of them had been involved in the violence against her community in October 2016.
Khaton said she had never reported previous threats because “We don’t trust the police, we just escape, that’s our only solution.”
The youth were armed with rifles and slingshots. She heard periodic gunshots, and other villagers said that the army was helping the Rakhine youth, but she did not see any evidence of that herself.
After seeing the armed Rakhine group kill a young Rohingya man, a 22-year-old called Rahim, she decided to leave her village that day after Friday noon prayers. She said that initially the Rohingya youth in the village responded to the Rakhine group’s show of armed strength and threats by protesting with bamboo poles, but the Rakhine group opened fire on them:
Jumma prayers were just over that Friday, and the men and boys were outside the mosque when the Rakhine armed men came up to them. Rahim and others took up bamboo poles, that’s all they had, but Rahim panicked when they began to shoot. He started running away. I saw them shoot him – the bullet went through his cheek, right by his cheekbone under his eye. He died from that wound.
After witnessing that shooting, Khaton panicked and fled into the hills with her three teenage daughters, ages 13, 15, and 18, whose safety she most feared for. She left her 5-year-old son behind – many Rohingya thought younger children might be safe from attack – but since then, she has no news of him.
She learned that the armed Rakhine group had returned to attack her village in the early hours of August 26. While hiding in the hills, Khaton said she saw several helicopters. She also said she heard bombs being dropped near and around her village: “It was a constant boom boom boom.” She saw her village mosque and one house in her village burning.
Khaton and her daughters had no trouble entering Bangladesh, but she remains concerned about the security of her daughters, and is troubled by uncertainty and guilt for her young son left behind.
Nurus Safa, about 40, fled from Fahira Bazar in the village tract of Kha Maung Seik on August 29. She appeared to be in a state of shock when Human Rights Watch met her less than 24 hours after she arrived Bangladesh. “Many people were killed by knives, houses burned,” she said. “We were threatened, people were wounded, so I just fled.”
Safa said her village was attacked on August 25 by men in uniform whom she assumes were Burmese army soldiers. She and other villagers ran from the village and hid in the nearby hills for a few days and nights. She had heard rumors that some Rohingya youth in her village had been arming themselves and organizing protests, but she did not know this directly and had seen no signs of it.
In her panic to leave, Safa left behind the three eldest of her six children, ages 7, 8, and 15. She has received no news about them or her husband, Shafique Ahmed. She said that when she crossed the Naf River, the water level was up to her neck because of heavy monsoon rains. She said she saw many wounded people crossing the river into Bangladesh, but does not know who they were or how they were injured.
Safa says she and her younger children did not have any trouble from the Bangladeshi border guards when entering Bangladesh.
Mohammad Yunus, 26, said his village of Sikadir Para in Tat U Chaung village tract, close to the border with Bangladesh, was attacked on August 26. Although the villagers had had no prior warning of the attack, they were nervous because other people had come to his village fleeing attacks on their own villages further inland. He described the attack on the neighboring village of Falinga Ziri:
I remember army helicopters, olive green in color, flying around. I was standing on the other side of a canal, watching all this happen directly across from me. I was very close and saw it all myself. The soldiers were using guns that shoot fire, or something that explodes and sets fire.
Yunus was not sure how many soldiers were involved in the operation, but he thinks there might have been over 250. He said he saw about 25 to 30 houses set on fire in Falinga Kiri from his vantage point. He said that at the time of the attack, it looked to him like there were no villagers left; they had all fled earlier.
Yunus and his fellow villagers quickly decided to flee their village as well. The next day, August 27, as they were heading toward shelter in neighboring hills, he saw soldiers and police shooting at villagers fleeing. He learned later that one woman had been killed.
Yunus said that he did not know of any Rohingya men who had been training or arming themselves, or had engaged in any militant activity.
Begum Bahar said that soldiers attacked her village of Kun Thee Pyin on August 25. They wore olive green uniforms and she believes they were Burmese army. She along with seven of her children and other villagers fled in panic when they saw the soldiers and heard gunfire. They ran into the jungle to cross the border into Bangladesh for safety, a two-hour walk away.
Bahar said she saw at least three bodies as she fled to the border crossing. One had a cut on the back of the neck and two suffered from bullet wounds. She heard the “boom boom boom” of large weapons firing all day August 26 and 27, as she was attempting to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh. During the river crossing, she lost contact with her 12-year-old son and does not know if he survived.
Begum Behar said she was unaware of Rohingya militant training or anti-government activities. She said that the authorities had ordered all Rohingya villages to deposit sharp weapons to local leaders to turn over to the police, so any kind of resistance would be difficult. She did admit that her 22-year-old son had opposed her decision to leave and stayed behind when she left with her other children.
Hussein, 19, said that on August 27 at about 9 a.m., about 200 to 300 Burmese security forces in uniform along with local Rakhine men arrived at his village of Kun Thee Pyun (Kwashong in Rohingya). He said they were all armed, but was too frightened to have a proper look at their weapons. They began a spree of indiscriminate shooting in the village.
Hussein said that before the attack, tensions had been running high:
The local police had been harassing us, mistreating us for at least six months before this. They would take away our cows, for example. We were angry about this but we didn’t protest; we knew protesting would come to nothing. Then on the Friday [August 25] before the attack, four people were killed in my village [by the police]. I don’t know exactly how it happened. They were all Rohingya men. We left the village that day and hid in the hills, but came back because the police seemed to back down and leave. We thought it was all over, but it was not.
Hussein said that when the August 27 attack began, he and the other villagers fled into the hills. From atop one hill, he saw a helicopter flying over Kun Thee Pyun village, and then almost immediately after he saw houses in the village catch on fire. He doesn’t know what caused the houses to catch fire.
He said that none of the villagers in his village were killed or injured during the August 27 attack. He walked for two days and on August 29 arrived at the Bangladeshi border. He said the Bangladesh border guards stopped his group at the border for a while, and then instructed them to take another route to enter Bangladesh. The group did that and they were allowed in.
Anwar Shah, 17, said that on the morning of August 27, Burmese security forces in uniform opened fire on a crowd in his village of Let Ya Chaung, killing three Rohingya men and a boy, and wounding 18 others. He said he didn’t know the circumstances of the shooting, but there had been tensions between the authorities and local Rakhine and Rohingya villagers for some time. He didn’t think the four were armed or posed any security threat. The dead included Shah’s brother, Abdu Satter, 22. Abdu Shukur, about 50, Nur Alam, about 15, and Haroun, about 25. Their families buried them in the neighboring village of Kum Para because they were too frightened to bury them in their own village.
Shah said that after the attack he saw the local village mosque was on fire. He heard that the local police were responsible setting the blaze but did not witness that.
Shah said that following his brother’s death, he fled to Bangladesh. He learned that there was a big attack on his village the next day, August 28, and that all houses were set on fire.
(New York) – The apparent extrajudicial executions by Philippine police of two children over a three-day period underscores the need for a United Nations inquiry into President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive “war on drugs,” Human Rights Watch said today. While several dozen children under 18 have died in drug war-related killings since June 2016, circumstances suggest that the Philippine National Police (PNP) deliberately targeted the two children.
“The apparent willingness of Philippine police to deliberately target children for execution marks an appalling new level of depravity in this so-called drug war,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “These killings demonstrate that Duterte’s rejection of the rule of law has made all Filipinos potential ‘drug-war’ victims, no matter how young.”
On September 6, 2017, a passerby spotted the body of Reynaldo de Guzman, a 14-year-old Grade 5 student from Pasig City, floating in a creek, 20 days after he was reported missing. A pathologist report indicates that de Guzman died from at least 30 stab wounds after his assailants wrapped his head in packing tape. Packing tape has been a gruesome hallmark of many drug-war killings under Duterte. De Guzman had last been seen alive on August 18 in the company of his friend Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, who the police shot to death later that day after they accused him of robbing a taxi driver in Manila’s Caloocan City.
Two days earlier, on August 16, police anti-drug officers in Caloocan City killed 17-year-old Kian delos Santos. Police said they shot delos Santos after he fired on them during an anti-drug operation. However, both witness accounts and close circuit television camera footage indicate that police executed an unarmed delos Santos while he was in police custody and dumped his body in an alley.
The killings of delos Santo and de Guzman bring to at least 54 the number of children killed by police and “unidentified gunmen” in the “war on drugs” since July 2016, according to data from the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center. Most of those children had been shot while in the company of adults who were the apparent target of the shooting. Both Duterte and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II have dismissed those killings as “collateral damage.”
Duterte’s government has also imperiled children by approving a plan for mandatory drug testing for all college students and applicants. The order permits local governments, the police, and other law enforcement agencies to “carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises” with the approval of school administrators. This will effectively allow the police to extend their abusive anti-drug operations to college and university campuses, placing students at grave risk.
A public uproar over the killings of delos Santos and de Guzman has prompted Duterte, the Justice Department, and the Philippine National Police to promise thorough investigations into their deaths. In August, the Public Attorney’s Office filed murder and torture charges against the police officers implicated in the delos Santos killing. But on September 8, Duterte described de Guzman’s killing as a deliberate act of “sabotage” to “discredit” the police.
There are major concerns about the willingness and capacity of the Philippine authorities to conduct thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into drug war-related killings. In July, police officials allowed the police officers facing homicide charges in the 2016 killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Sr. to return to work.
The officers were reinstated even though twin inquiries by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Senate reached the conclusion that the officers had committed “premeditated murder” when they shot Espinosa to death in a Manila jail cell on November 5, 2016. Espinosa had surrendered to the police following public accusations by President Duterte that he was a drug trafficker. Both investigations rejected the officers’ assertion that Espinosa died in a firefight in his cell after brandishing a concealed pistol.
Duterte has also systematically sought to vilify, harass, and intimidate those carrying out domestic and international accountability efforts that have challenged his drug war. The targets of the harassment campaign include human rights organizations and activists, lawyers, United Nations officials, journalists, and Philippine lawmakers.
Concerted action by the UN Human Rights Council to address Duterte’s abusive drug war is crucial. The council should press the Philippines government to accept an independent international investigation into all allegations of extrajudicial killings and to hold those responsible to account. The council should also press the government to cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, grant unfettered and unconditional access to the rapporteur, and immediately stop all official incitement and instigation of drug war killings.
“A fundamental obligation of every government is to protect the lives of its children, not to empower police and their agents to murder them,” Kine said. “Until Duterte ends his abusive drug war and allows a UN-led international probe, child-killers among the police will continue to get away with murder.”
(New York, September 9, 2017) – New satellite images show hundreds of buildings destroyed in primarily Rohingya Muslim urban areas in Burma’s Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said today. Satellite photos taken on September 2, 2017, show 450 buildings destroyed by fire in the town of Maungdaw, the administrative capital of Maungdaw township. Satellite-based heat sensing technology indicated active fires in this area on August 28.
“The widespread destruction of urban areas in Maungdaw town suggests that Burmese security forces are not just attacking Rohingya Muslims in isolated villages,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Burmese government has an obligation to protect everyone in the country, but if safety cannot even be found in area capitals, then no place may be safe.”
New satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch shows the destruction of at least 450 buildings in Maungdaw town. Satellite imagery displayed in false-color, near-infrared to highlight areas of extensive fire-related damages and burn scars. September 2, 2017.
The damage shown in the satellite imagery is concentrated in two areas near the center of town, immediately north and east of Maungdaw prison, which are primarily inhabited by Rohingya Muslims. Expert analysis shows that damage signatures are consistent with fire.
Satellites initially detected active fires in the late morning and early afternoon of August 28 in these areas of the town. Reports from the State Counsellor’s information office reported clashes in the area where fires were detected on August 27 and 29, alleging that in both instances Rohingya militants burned homes of Rohingya and Hindu residents, but providing no evidence to back those claims.
“The Burmese government needs to grant access to independent monitors to determine the sources of fires and assess allegations of serious human rights violations relayed by Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” Robertson said. “Government and military authorities have repeatedly made claims without evidence, showing the urgency of allowing journalists and monitors on the ground to find out what’s really going on.”
(New York) – Singapore authorities should drop their investigation into a peaceful vigil outside Changi prison in July 2017 to support the family of Malaysian national S. Prabagaran, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should end its harassment of activists campaigning against capital punishment and respect their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
On July 13, the night before the scheduled execution of S. Prabagaran, a small group gathered outside Changi prison to hold a candlelight vigil with his family. Within 15 minutes, the police arrived and confiscated both the candles and photographs of Prabagaran that had been hung on a fence. However, they told the participants that they did not have to leave if they did not light any more candles.
More than six weeks later, the vigil participants received letters from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) summoning them for questioning on September 7 for holding an assembly without a permit in violation of Singapore’s restrictive Public Order Act. The activists have also been barred from leaving the country.
“The Singapore government seems frightened even by a peaceful candlelight vigil to support the relatives of a condemned man,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Once again Singapore’s draconian restrictions on public assemblies are being used to violate the rights of people to engage in peaceful protests.”
Singapore’s Public Order Act requires a police permit for any “cause-related” assembly held in a public place, or to which the public is invited. Organizing or participating in a protest without a permit is a criminal offense, even if the protest was peaceful and caused no disruption of public order. Under international law, freedom of assembly is a right and not a privilege and should not be subject to prior authorization by the authorities. It is widely accepted that no one should be subject to criminal penalties simply for organizing or participating in a peaceful assembly.
Those summoned to appear for questioning include Kirsten Han, a journalist and member of anti-death penalty organization We Believe in Second Chances; Terry Xu, editor of the online news portal The Online Citizen; Jolovan Wham, migrant worker rights activist; and filmmaker Jason Soo, whose most recent film dealt with the detention of 22 activists under Singapore’s Internal Security Act in 1987. Although the letter the activists received did not mention a ban on travel, Terry Xu was prevented from crossing into Malaysia when he arrived at Woodlands Checkpoint on September 6, and the police have since confirmed that all of those summoned are subject to a travel ban at least until after questioning, and possibly for the duration of the investigation.
“Both the belated criminal investigation and the travel ban have all the hallmarks of a harassment campaign against those who dare to peacefully criticize the government,” Robertson said. “The Singapore government needs to end this dubious investigation, recognize that peaceful protest is part and parcel of the democratic process, and amend the Public Order Act to respect the right to freedom of assembly.”
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government should end its politically motivated prosecution of the opposition party leader and release him unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said today. Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on pending charges of treason and “colluding with foreigners” under article 443 of Cambodia’s penal code. The authorities are pursuing these baseless charges despite Sokha’s constitutionally guaranteed immunity as a member of parliament.
“The Cambodian government has concocted treason charges against Kem Sokha for political purposes, aiming to end the 2018 election campaign before it even begins,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Hun Sen is apparently not going to let democratic principles get in the way of his continued rule. Countries that contributed for years to Cambodia’s rebuilding should denounce this betrayal of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.”
Shortly after midnight on September 3, 2017, about 200 police arrived at Sokha’s home in Toulkork, Phnom Penh. The police dismissed requests to produce a warrant, forced their way into the residence where Sokha and his wife, Te Chanmono, were sleeping, and detained him. The police then confiscated his mobile phone and led him away in handcuffs to an undisclosed location.
Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News was the first to report the arrest by linking a video from the Cambodian Broadcasting Network allegedly showing footage of Kem Sokha discussing secret plans of a conspiracy between him and “other foreigners to harm the Kingdom of Cambodia.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen presaged the charges on August 23, 2017, when he made a speech in which he accused the CNRP of “conduct[ing] traitorous [acts] to the nation and its people.” Hun Sen also recently stated that he will not let “outside powers” interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs, ordering that there be a further investigation about any foreigners who are involved with Sokha for allegedly “betraying his own nation.”
Fresh News has since named others that the government has linked as possible suspects to Sokha’s case, including members of parliament such as Pol Ham, the recently named acting CNRP party president, and Son Chhay; as well as party spokespersons Nhem Ponnarith and Ou Chanrith; and Sokha’s daughters, Kem Mona and Kem Samathida.
On September 5, prosecutors formally began criminal proceedings against Sokha by filing an introductory submission, and an investigating judge then questioned Sokha, who will remain a suspect under judicial investigation until the investigating judge decides whether to charge Sokha.
“Prosecuting Kem Sokha for treason would be a devastating setback not only for human rights in Cambodia, but for the country’s hopes of future democratic development,” Robertson said. “Once again the government is using its control over the judiciary to manipulate the legal system to silence political opponents.”
Cambodia’s human rights situation has rapidly deteriorated during the past year as the July 2018 national elections approach. After the opposition mounted a strong showing in national elections in 2013 that caught the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) by surprise, Prime Minister Hun Sen has overseen an alarming increase of threatening political rhetoric, including repeated threats of violence and other forms of intimidation by government officials directed at dissidents and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). This was especially evident in the lead-up to this year’s commune elections. Hun Sen and several senior military and ministry figures, including Defense Minister Tea Banh and CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, have repeatedly warned that the military would “smash … teeth” of protesters and “not be neutral” when it comes to siding with the CPP. Hun Sen added that any election victory by the political opposition would likely lead to “civil war,” and he threatened to use violence against persons who mount a “color revolution,” a term that attempts to portray organized peaceful dissent as the violent overthrow of the government.
While campaigning prior to the 2017 commune elections, Hun Sen publicly said he would be “willing to eliminate 100 to 200 people” to protect “national security,” and that the opposition should “prepare their coffins.” After the vote, Hun Sen repeated this claim and made a transparent reference to exiled former CNRP party leader Sam Rainsy, suggesting that Rainsy knew he would be targeted for violence. On August 2, Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said that protesters who disputed the outcome of the 2018 elections would be “hit with the bottom end of bamboo poles” – a chilling reference to a punishment technique used by the Khmer Rouge – and threatened civil servants in his ministry with termination if they did not support the CPP.
The CPP-dominated parliament passed two sets of repressive amendments to the Law on Political Parties in 2017. These changes allow authorities to dissolve political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without fair or transparent procedures or an appeals process. The amendments contain numerous restrictions tailored to create obstacles for opposition parties, most notably provisions that compel parties to face dissolution unless they expel leaders who have been convicted of a criminal charge. This provision bars Sam Rainsy from involvement in the party, and poses a threat to Kem Sokha, who would lose party leadership if convicted of treason or other charges. The ministry of interior also enjoys broad authority to indefinitely suspend a party based on broad, vaguely defined restrictions that violate due process and rights to free expression and association. Cambodian law provides the government a powerful tool to weaken the opposition or dissolve parties outright, Human Rights Watch said.
Sokha’s arbitrary arrest aligns with government pronouncements that they will do whatever is necessary to maintain their more than 30-year rule, as Human Rights Watch has extensively documented in previous reports.
“Cambodia’s political allies and donors should be publicly alarmed by the outrageous charges Kem Sokha faces and this attack on the democratic process,” Robertson said. “They should put Hun Sen on notice that if he doesn’t reverse course, it will be impossible to consider next year’s elections free and fair.”
(Tashkent) – The Uzbek government should take advantage of the country’s new political era to act on its international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. A Human Rights Watch delegation is visiting Uzbekistan the week of September 4, 2017, the organization’s first full delegation to visit Uzbekistan since 2010, when its representatives were banned from working inside the country.
Human Rights Watch urged the Uzbek government to release all prisoners held on politically motivated charges, cease torture and ill-treatment in detention, and end forced labor in the cotton fields.
“This is a real moment of hope for the human rights of the Uzbek people,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The key is for the Uzbek government to transform the modest steps it has taken thus far into institutional change and sustainable improvements.”
Since assuming power in 2016 following the death of the country’s long-time authoritarian leader Islam Karimov, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken some actions to improve human rights in the country. These include the release of several political prisoners and increased public accountability of government institutions.
Over the past year, the government has established a complaints mechanism that is widely used by ordinary citizens, and there have been small steps to loosen restrictions on free expression. The government has also announced an intention to eliminate the Soviet-era practice of requiring citizens to obtain state permission for travel outside the country.
During its visit, the Human Rights Watch delegation is meeting with senior officials from a wide array of government agencies, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, and Labor; the parliament; Supreme Court; and National Human Rights Center; as well as with human rights defenders, journalists, and recently released political prisoners.
In its meetings, Human Rights Watch has called on the government to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, allow civil society activists to operate without fear of harassment or detention, and to cooperate fully with United Nations human rights bodies.
“We’re pleased Human Rights Watch has been able to reenter Uzbekistan. We’re keen to work with all our partners here to help improve human rights,” Swerdlow said.