Home » Posts tagged 'Human Rights Watch'
Tag Archives: Human Rights Watch
|Just a few decades ago, Ethiopia was a country defined by its famines, particularly between 1983-1985 when in excess of half a million people starved to death as a consequence of drought, crop failure and a brutal civil war.Against this backdrop, it is impressive that in recent years, Ethiopia has been experiencing stellar economic growth. The headline statistics are certainly remarkable: the country is creating millionaires faster than any other in Africa; output from farming, Ethiopia’s dominant industry, has tripled in a decade; the capital Addis Ababa is experiencing a massive construction boom; and the last six years have seen the nation’s GDP grow by a staggering 108 percent.
But it is not all positive news, because for all the good figures there are still plenty of bad ones.
Around 90 percent of the population of 87 million still suffers from numerous deprivations, ranging from insufficient access to education to inadequate health care; average incomes are still well below $1500 a year; and more than 30 million people still face chronic food shortages.
And while there are a number of positive and genuine reasons for the growth spurt – business and legislative reforms, more professional governance, the achievements of a thriving service sector – many critics say that the growth seen in agriculture, which accounts for almost half of Ethiopia’s economic activity and a great deal of its recent success, is actually being driven by an out of control ‘land grab’, as multinational companies and private speculators vie to lease millions of acres of the country’s most fertile territory from the government at bargain basement prices.
At the ministry of agriculture in Addis Ababa, this land-lease programme is often described as a “win-win” because it brings in new technologies and employment and, supposedly, makes it easier to improve health care, education and other services in rural areas.
“Ethiopia needs to develop to fight poverty, increase food supplies and improve livelihoods and is doing so in a sustainable way,” said one official.
But according to a host of NGO’s and policy advocates, including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute, the true consequences of the land grabs are almost all negative. They say that in order to make such huge areas available for foreign investors to grow foodstuffs and bio-fuels for export – and in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law – the authorities are displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples, abusing their human rights, destroying their traditions, trashing the environment, and making them more dependent on food aid than ever before.
“The benefits for the local populations are very little,” said renowned Ethiopian sociologist Dessalegn Rahmato. “They’ve taken away their land. They’ve taken away their natural resource, because these investors are clearing the land, destroying the forest, cutting down the trees. The government claims that one of the aims of this investment was to enable local areas to benefit by investing in infrastructure, social services … but these benefits are not included in the contract. It’s only left up to the magnanimity of the investor.”
And those investors, he continued, are simply not interested in anything other than serving their own needs: “They can grow any crop they want, when they want it, they can sell in any market they want, whether it’s a global market or a local market. In fact most of them are not interested in the local markets.”
He cited as an example a massive Saudi-owned plantation in the fertile Gambella region of south west Ethiopia, a prime target area for investors: “They have 10,000 hectares and they are producing rice. This rice is going to be exported to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and other places. The local people in that area don’t eat rice.”
But the most controversial element of the government’s programme is known as ‘villagisation’ – the displacement of people from land they have occupied for generations and their subsequent resettlement in artificial communities.
In Gambella, where two ethnic groups, the Anuaks and the Nuers, predominate, it has meant tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon a traditional way of life. One such is Moot, an Anuak farmer who now lives in a government village far from his home.
“When investors showed up, we were told to pack up our things and to go to the village. If we had decided not to go, they would have destroyed our crops, our houses and our belongings. We couldn’t even claim compensation because the government decided that those lands belonged to the investors. We were scared … if you get upset and say that someone stole your land, you are put in prison. If you complain about being arrested, they will kill you. It’s not our land anymore; we have been deprived of our rights.”
Despite growing internal opposition and international criticism, the Ethiopian government shows no sign of scaling the programme back. According to the Oakland Institute, since 2008, an area the size of France has already been handed over to foreign corporations. Over the next few years an area twice that size is thought to be earmarked for leasing to investors.
So what does all this mean for the people on the ground? In Ethiopia – Land for Sale, filmmakers Veronique Mauduy and Romain Pelleray try and find out.
Cambodia imposed an indefinite ban on demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January [AP]
|At least eight people have been injured in Cambodia’s capital as police fired smoke grenades and used electric batons to break up an anti-government demonstration.Several hundred people, led by radio station owner Mam Sonando, gathered in front of the Ministry of Information on Monday to press demand for the government critic to be allowed a license for a television channel.
The government last week rejected the application, saying there was no frequency available. All existing stations are closely linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodia has been accused of only granting television licences to pro-government media.
Protesters and journalists were hit by police batons during Monday’s rally, according to rights activists.
Activist Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho condemned the crackdown on the protesters as a “serious violation of human rights”.
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said police dispersed the protest because it had not been permitted and could have led to violence.
The government imposed an indefinite ban on street demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January challenging the results of last year’s election, which the opposition alleges was rigged.
“It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the law,” Long Dimanche said.
Sonando, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was convicted in October 2012 on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.
He was released from jail last March after a court cleared him of a secessionist plot, slashing his 20-year jail term and ordering his release from prison.
Baton-wielding police clashed on Sunday with protesters – including Buddhist monks – demanding higher wages for garment workers and the release of 23 people arrested during a recent bloody crackdown on striking garment workers, which left at least four civilians dead.
Authorities have quelled recent street protests against Hun Sen. He faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government’s suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the recent actions by the Cambodian government and is urging the United Nations member countries to press the country’s leadership to abide by previous commitments and fulfil new rights pledges.
Cambodia is scheduled to appear before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Tuesday.
“Hun Sen’s government violates human rights on a daily basis by violently preventing the opposition, trade unions, activists and others from gathering to demand political change,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.
Disputes over land in Honduras’ Bajo Aguan Valley have led to the deaths of 63 people, mostly peasants [AP]
|An internal World Bank investigation says the bank’s private lending arm violated its own social and environmental rules in approving a $30m loan to a Honduran palm oil magnate allegedly tied to the forced eviction and deaths of dozens of land activists.
The months-long investigation found the bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) failed to properly vet Honduran powerbroker Miguel Facusse’s Corporacion Dinant, a palm oil and food giant embroiled in one of Honduras’ deadliest land conflicts in recent history.
The IFC said it was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life resulting from the land conflicts – risks the agency determined were “manageable” when it initially assessed the palm oil project in 2008. Both the IFC andDinant said they disagree with parts of the audit released Friday but that they are taking the allegations seriously.
The audit by the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) says a standard news search required by the World Bank revealed damning allegations against Facusse. Public news articles show Facusse allegedly misused his political influence, was accused of involvement in the murder of an environment activist and land disputes with indigenous communities, had an arrest warrant issued in relation to environmental crimes, and had his properties used for drug trafficking.
The search, the CAO said, shows “IFC staff either knew about these allegations and perceptions and failed to deal with them as required … or did not conduct the required news agency searches”.
David Pred, executive director of Inclusive Development International, said the case shines a spotlight on the kind of “dirty business” the World Bank is increasingly engaged in as it expands its investments in high-risk environments.
“This audit, and the Bank’s response to it, shows that IFC’s social and environmental requirements, touted as the ‘gold standard’, come with a wink and a nod that companies like Dinant can literally get away with murder and still boast the World Bank’s stamp of approval,” Pred said in an email to Al Jazeera.
A history of conflict
The blood is being shed in Honduras’ northern Aguan Valley, where land disputes are age-old. Agrarian reforms of the 1970s saw indigenous-held land redistributed to farmer cooperatives. Those cooperatives ended up in bankruptcy with neoliberal reforms, and in the 1990s, the government and cooperatives sold the land to a few wealthy Hondurans, including Facusse.
Activists claiming ownership of Dinant properties are known to play a game of cat and mouse with security forces, occupying disputed properties, being evicted, and then returning. The confrontations often turn violent, according to groups like the International Federation for Human Rights, which have monitored the conflict.
The CAO audit notes the murders of at least 102 people affiliated with the peasant movement in the Aguan Valley between January 2010 and May 2013, according to civil society groups. Forty of those deaths, the CAO said, were specifically linked by human rights groups to Dinant properties and security forces.
The audit also notes allegations that at least nine Dinant security personnel were killed by affiliates of the peasant movement.
Dinant’s spokesman Roger Pineda has denied the company’s involvement in violence against anyone embroiled in land disputes surrounding Facusse’s property. He told Al Jazeera Dinant’s security forces are the victims of attack by armed invaders trespassing on the palm plantations. Pineda also rejected allegations Facusse’s landing strips were used to transfer drugs. He told Al Jazeera that drug traffickers had forcibly taken over the property and that Facusse surrendered his airstrip to local military authorities until recent months.
The five-point plan issued by the IFC in response to the audit said it would help Dinant conduct a massive security review and that the company would collaborate with local authorities to investigate credible allegations of unlawful or abusive acts.
“Moving forward, we will continue to monitor the implementation of Dinant’s environmental and Social Action Plan, and look to bolster our procedures in relation to environmental and social risks in fragile and conflict-affected areas,” the IFC said in response to the audit.
Leaving the job of investigating abuses to the people allegedly complicit in them is wrong, according to Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead of the accurate, adequate, and objective assessment of the allegations its policies require, the IFC is leaving the job to the fox that raided the chicken coop in the first place,” Evans said. “Human lives and livelihoods are at stake here. The IFC should demand an external, expert investigation that could create a framework for Dinant to remedy any violations of its responsibility to respect human rights.”
The IFC said Dinant would lose its funding if it doesn’t comply with the action plan. The lending agency already put a hold on half of its $30m loan to Dinant in mid-2010, following human rights complaints by the Washington-based group Rights Action.
However, that did not stop the IFC from calling Dinant owner Facusse a “respected businessman” and later approving a $70m investment in one of Dinant’s biggest lenders, Banco Financiera Comercial Hondurena (Ficohsa). The investment will give the IFC a 10 percent stake in the Honduran bank.
The Word Bank watchdog found the IFC’s “deficiencies” are a by-product of its culture and incentives that measure results in financial terms.
“In a risk-averse setting, accountability for results defined primarily in financial terms may incentivise staff to overlook, fail to articulate, or even conceal potential environmental, social and conflict related risks,” the CAO said. “The result, however, as seen in this audit is that the institution may underestimate these categories of risk.”
The CAO is conducting another investigation into how smart the risks were in another IFC project in Honduras. Its query into the human rights impact of the IFC’s investment in Ficohsa, and its relationship to Dinant, is due to be completed in June.
Several prominent secular activists have been arrested in the past three weeks [Al Jazeera]
|Human Rights Watch has denounced the arrest of a prominent Egyptian activist during a raid by security forces on a domestic human rights organisation, which it described as a continuation of a crackdown on dissent.Police broke into the offices of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights late Thursday and arrested six of its members who were blindfolded and detained in an undisclosed place for nine hours. Five of them were later released.
Mohamed Adel, a founding member of the April 6 movement that contributed to the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, remains in custody.
Police have in the past three weeks also gone after three other prominent activists of the Egyptian protest movement; Alaa Abdelfattah, Ahmed Maher and Ahmad Douma.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said the pursuit of the activists is a deliberate effort to target “voices who demand justice and security agency reform”.
“It should come as no surprise that with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood well underway, the Ministry of Interior is now targeting leaders of the secular protest movement,” Whitson said in a statement released on Saturday.
“The Egyptian government has sent a strong signal with its attack on a human rights group, and these arrests and prosecutions, that it is not in the mood for dissent of any kind,” Whitson said.
With Adel’s arrest, the number of prominent political activists arrested by Egypt’s security forces in the past three years has risen to a total of five.
Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement and a 2011 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is among those put in jail since the government passed a law outlawing the calling for protests without first attaining approvals from the Ministry of Interior.
Along with Adel, Maher and activist Ahmed Douma are on trial on charges relating to a protest on November 30, with a verdict scheduled for December 22.
Prosecutors also recently referred Alaa Abdelfattah, one of the most vocal critics of the police and the military, to trial on charges of organising a demonstration without notification.
Human Rights Watch accused the police of using “the deeply repressive” law to arrest scores of political activists on grounds that they failed to seek advance permission for their demonstrations.
“The government claims that, instead of criminal penalties, the new law sets fines – of 10,000 – 30,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$ $1,500 – 4,300) under article 21 – for failing to get advance permission,” the HRW statement said, adding: “Yet the new law incorporates the existing restrictive assembly laws, including Law 14 of 1923, which carries with it a prison sentence for participation in an unauthorised demonstration.”
There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don’t need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let’s stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.
It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.
We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.
- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Blast U.S. Drone Strikes (world.time.com)
- US defends drone strikes despite Amnesty report (abc.net.au)
Rights groups have demanded that the US launch an impartial investigation into its use of drone warfare and that the country publicly disclose any evidence of civilian casualties.
In independent reports published on Tuesday, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that the US must hold to account those responsible for civilian deaths and be more transparent about its drone programme.
“As evidence emerges of civilian casualties in these strikes, it’s time for the US to stop covering its ears and starting taking action to ensure the programme is legal,” Letta Taylor, senior counterterrorism researcher at HRW told Al Jazeera.
Two recently published UN reports are to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday. Taylor said that the release of the four reports in a brief period “underscores the mounting questions about the legality” of drones.
All four reports demand that the US should provide a full legal rationale for targeted killings.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, said that while its report focuses on Pakistan, and HRW’s on Yemen, the drones programme “raises the same questions about human rights violations all over the world”.
“Both organisations are calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the we have documented in our reports and other potentially unlawful deaths,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that the group hoped that the US would act immediately on their recommendations.
HRW said that the Yemeni government, which is engaged in a conflict with al-Qaeda, had been “almost as silent” as the US on the death toll caused by air raids.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that President Barack Obama had outlined the US rational for drone strikes in a May 23 speech.
“The president spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the US takes action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. As the president emphasised, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care.
“Of particular note, before we take any counterterrorism strike, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”
She said the US was aware that this report had been released and were reviewing it carefully.
Through personal testimonies from eye-witnesses and relatives of drone-strike victims in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, Amnesty International’s 74-page report titled Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan reviewed 45 known drone strikes in the region between January 2012 and August this year.
It found that nine of the strikes could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions – some of which were unjustified and some of which were cases of “rescuer” or follow-up attacks on residents who had gone to the scene after an initial strike.
|The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognize the faces
Ahmad al-Sabooli, Yemeni Farmer,
In July 2012, 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a village close to the Afghan border. The report indicates that the victims of the strike were not involved in fighting and did not pose a threat.
The London-based rights group added that such strikes were caused locals to live in fear, and set “a dangerous precedent that other states may seek to exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings”.
HRW’s 97-page report, Between a Drone and al-Qaeda’: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen, examined six US targeted killings in the country – one from 2009, and the rest between 2012 and 2013.
The strikes killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.
None met US policy guidelines for targeted killings set out in US President Barack Obama’s speech in May, said the New York-based rights group.
“Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths,” said HRW.
A witness quoted in the report described the aftermath of one strike targeting an alleged al-Qaeda leader, but instead struck a passenger van killing 12 civilians.
“The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognise the faces,” Ahmad al-Sabooli, a 23 year-old Yemeni farmer, said.
International law prohibits arbitrary killings and limits intentional lethal force to exceptional situations wherein in an armed conflict, only combatants and those participating in hostilities may be targeted.
Intentional lethal force is lawful only when there is, with certainty, an imminent threat to life.
- Rights groups probe US drone strikes (bbc.co.uk)
- 2 human rights groups question legality of U.S. drone strikes (mcclatchydc.com)
- US Accused of Unlawful Killings in Pakistan Drone Strikes (voanews.com)