Human Rights Watch, 2017 WORLD REPORT 

Human Rights Watch, 2017 WORLD REPORT 


Human Rights Watch (HRW) have recently launched their World Report 2017 – Events of 2016.

 This 704 page report covering over 90 countries (of an estimated 197 countries  in the world) from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe is its annual snapshot of the state of human rights:

“Human rights exist to protect people from government abuse and neglect. Rights limit what a state can do and impose obligations for how a state must act.”

They also note:

“The absence of a particular country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.”


Areas of concern include children’s and women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people’s rights…


And the situation is not good. And appears to be getting worse…


In the essay section, which opens the first half of the report: “Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth examines the rise of leaders who, claiming to speak for “the people” amid rising public discontent over the status quo, reject rights as an impediment to their perception of the majority will. Roth sees such unrestrained majoritarianism and assaults on government checks and balances as “perhaps the greatest danger today to the future of democracy in the West.” The past should serve as our guide he warns: leaders who have claimed insight into the will of the majority have gone on to crush the individual who stands in their way. “We should never underestimate the tendency of demagogues who sacrifice the rights of others in our name today to jettison our rights tomorrow when their real priority—retaining power—is in jeopardy,” he writes. Rather than taking on this surge of populist at-tacks on human rights, he says, too many Western leaders are lying low, “hoping the winds of populism will blow over.” Some seem to think that echoing populists’ positions will mitigate their rise rather than reinforcing their message. Others, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, appear emboldened in their repressive path by the rise of Western populism, and by the West’s muted response.  This global assault on human rights, Roth says, requires “a vigorous reaffirmation and defense” of its basic values, with media, civil society, and government all having important parts to play. But the real responsibility, he says, lies with the public, who via nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and traditional and social media, offer the best antidote to demagogues’ lies by demanding “a politics based on truth and the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.”


Kenneth Roth, (HRW Executive Director)

But rights by their nature do not admit an a` la carte approach. You may not like your neighbors, but if you sacrifice their rights today, you jeopardize your own tomorrow, because ultimately rights are grounded on the reciprocal duty to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. To violate the rights of some is to erode the edifice of rights that inevitably will be needed by members of the presumed majority in whose name current violations occur.


A second essay in the Report: “When Exposing Abusers Is Not Enough: Strategies to Confront the Shameless,” Akshaya Kumar examines the traditional human rights strategy of “naming and shaming” those who violate human rights. Increasingly, she notes, shockingly enough: “that approach is being undermined by human rights abusers who revel in their atrocities, rather than hide them, and even use them to entice new followers.” Thus “Human rights activists, Kumar argues, need to adapt their own tactics accordingly, by taking on those who enable abusers— financial backers, arms suppliers, and other networks that make their rights violations possible.”


Akshaya Kumar (Deputy United Nations Director)

I don’t care about human rights,” Rodrigo Duterte boasted in August 2016, shortly after becoming president of the Philippines. In just a few months since coming to power, Duterte’s self-proclaimed anti-drug campaign has resulted in police and “unidentified gunmen” killing thousands of Filipinos, without any semblance of due process. Promising medals to those who join his effort, Duterte has compared himself to Hitler and declared that he would be “happy to slaughter” the more than 3 million Filipinos he describes as “drug addicts.


The rest of the volume is a litany of abuse and, worse still, an architecture of the structure of abuse compiled from the individual country entries, “each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.”


If you manage to read read through most of this travelogue of horror contained here you will encounter an arrangement of strange disturbing ‘creatures’:

arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture, discriminatory practices, denial of basic freedoms: of expression, of assembly, of association and the right to unionise, abuses by security forces, abuses by Peacekeepers (for example the peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who face numerous allegations of sexual exploitation), recruitment of  child soldiers (for example in Mali: “Armed groups in the north, including those allied with the government, continued to recruit and use child soldiers…” …and in Somalia: “…in September, the US imposed partial military sanctions on Somalia due to its continued recruitment and use of child soldiers, barring commercial arms sales and several other categories of military assistance for the 2017 fiscal year…”) …summary executions, forced displacement, attacks on people with albinism and child marriage (particularly in Mozambique), inhumane treatment in detention in many countries including Kim Jong-un’s North  Korea (“…the government practices collective punishment for alleged anti-state offenses, effectively enslaving hundreds of thousands of citizens, including children, in prison camps and other detention facilities. Detainees face deplorable conditions, sexual coercion and abuse, beatings and torture by guards, and forced labor in dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions…“) …police abuse and poor prison conditions, forced evictions, excessive use of police force, the prosecution of government critics, their arrests and convictions, arbitrary travel bans (for example in Bahrain), violence against bloggers, academics, gay rights activists, foreigners, and members of religious minorities (for example in Bangladesh), accompanied by security force abuse and impunity, the death penalty, more torture and ill-treatment of detainees, land confiscation (for example in  Burma’s Karen State), rape and other abuses (for example by the Ruling Party Youth in Burundi (“…members of the Imbonerakure and police, sometimes armed with guns, sticks or knives, raped women whose male family members were perceived government opponents….”) …attacks on the political opposition, land activists, labour activists, attacks on human rights organisations, attacks on human rights defenders and activists, attacks on public intellectuals (for example “…on July 22, 2016, the Appeals Court upheld the conviction earlier in the year of student Kong Raya for advocating a “color revolution” in Cambodia, maintaining his one-and-a-half-year prison sentence…“) …indefinite military service and forced labor (in Eritrea), child labour (see the section on Indonesia where “…thousands of children in Indonesia, some just 8 years old, are working in hazardous conditions on tobacco farms...”) …executions in many places (and in Iran where “…despite an initial slowdown in executions in the first months of 2016, authorities had executed at least 203 individuals by October 25. Human rights groups, however, report that the number might be as high as 437, with most executions taking place in the second half of the year. According to government authorities, individuals convicted of drug charges constitute the majority of those executed in the country.“)


Read the report in PDF form (online or downloaded) or use the dropdown list BROWSE COUNTRIES on HRW’s site to take a world tour of the darkness and violence that we human beings perpetrate on each other, often in the name of one’s own ‘rights’…


Kenneth Roth, (HRW Executive Director)

Values are fragile. Because the values of human rights depend foremost on the ability to empathize with others—to recognize the importance of treating others the way we would want to be treated—they are especially vulnerable to the demagogue’s exclusionary appeal. A society’s culture of respect for human rights needs regular tending, lest the fears of the moment sweep away the wisdom that built democratic rule.


…In Morocco: “Moroccan courts continued to jail persons for same-sex conduct under article 489 of the penal code, which prohibits “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”


In Sri Lanka: “Sri Lankan police are not held accountable for routine torture and ill-treatment of individuals taken into custody.”


In Thailand: “The Thai government, led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, repeatedly failed in 2016 to fulfill pledges made to the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council to respect human rights and restore democratic rule. A new constitution, which will entrench unaccountable and abusive military power, was adopted in a referendum marked by repressive tactics against critics of the proposed constitution.”


Turkey demands serious attention because of the concern with which Global Rights views its deteriorating respect for democratic rights and norms alongside its open warfare against the Kurdish community within and outside its current borders:

“Under the state of emergency, the president presides over the cabinet, which can pass decrees without parliamentary scrutiny or possibility of appeal to the constitutional court. Many decrees passed contain measures that conflict with basic human rights safeguards and Turkey’s obligations under international and domestic law.  These include provisions allowing for dismissal from public service without an investigation, confiscation of property without judicial review, police custody of up to 30 days, and the reintroduction of incommunicado detention in which detainees can be denied access to a lawyer in the first five days of custody, giving rise to heightened risks of ill-treatment.”


Likewise, we are told, Turkey temporarily derogated from (or asserted the right to place extraordinary restrictions on) many of the protections in the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “although it is prohibited from derogating from core obligations, including the absolute prohibition on torture or ill-treatment of detainees.” With the result that reports of abuse in detention including torture increased exponentially “such as beating and stripping detainees, use of prolonged stress positions, and threats of rape, as well as threats to lawyers and interference with medical examinations.”


Kenneth Roth, (HRW Executive Director)

There was broad cross-party support for Erdoğan’s government in the wake of the coup, given the collective sigh of relief that many in Turkey felt after the attempt failed. But with the precedent of repression established, and the independence of the courts and other institutions of law decimated, there was nothing to stand in the way of Erdoğan’s widening crackdown. A firm and timely response from Western leaders might have been expected, but other interests, whether curtailing the flow of refugees to Europe or fighting the self-described Islamic State, or ISIS, often stood in the way.


The number of individuals in Turkey targeted by Erdoğan is disturbing in a population estimated at 75 million:   “Over 100,000 public officials and civil servants have been dismissed or suspended. At least 2,200 judges and prosecutors were jailed pending investigation, reportedly because their names appeared on a list of alleged Gülen supporters. With 3,400 permanently dismissed for the same reason, their assets frozen, over one-fifth of Turkey’s judiciary has been removed. Around 11,000 teachers in the southeast who were mainly members of the left-leaning Eğitim Sen trade union were also suspended.”


At the same time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime severely curtailed the Freedoms of Expression, of Association, and of Assembly: “Government-led efforts to silence media criticism and scrutiny of government policy in Turkey involved five main trends: the prosecution and jailing of journalists; takeover of media companies—including the daily Zaman newspaper—by appointing government-approved trustees and seizing assets and the closing down of media; removal of critical television stations from the main state-owned satellite distribution platform and their closure; physical attacks and threats against journalists; and government pressure on media to fire critical journalists and cancel their press accreditation. Blocking of news websites critical to the government also increased. Turkey made the highest number of requests to Twitter of any country to censor individual accounts.”


Likewise for those attempting to speak out, even before the attempted military coup: “In January 2016, over 1,000 university lecturers who signed a petition criticizing government policy in the southeast and calling for a return to political negotiations with the PKK, were harshly targeted by Erdoğan in speeches and then subjected to a criminal investigation for “insulting” the Turkish state. The investigation had not been concluded at time of writing. Some universities dismissed signatories of the petition, and 68 were fired by decree in September and October…”


Following the coup attempt: “…the government closed down by decree over 160 media outlets, most linked to the Gülen movement or Kurdish media. The number of journalists in pretrial detention on the basis of their writing and journalistic activities surged to 144 by mid-November, making Turkey once again a world leader in jailing journalists. Presenting no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, authorities detained many reporters and columnists employed by media outlets allegedly linked to Gülen. Among those jailed pending investigation were veteran journalists and commentators who have been prominent government critics such as Nazli Ilicak, Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Altan, and Mehmet Altan.  Authorities detained journalists and writers on charges of links with the PKK but again presented no evidence to support the charges. Among this group were novelists Necmiye Alpay and Asli Erdoğan. Authorities closed down the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem in August and placed dozens of journalists who had participated in a solidarity campaign with the newspaper under investigation for “spreading terrorist propaganda.”  Cumhuriyet daily newspaper editor Can Dündar and the Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were convicted in May and sentenced to over five years’ imprisonment for revealing state secrets by publishing evidence of arms being sent to Syria. Dündar and Gül have appealed the verdict. Dündar is outside Turkey. In November, authorities arrested Murat Sabuncu who became  Cumhurıyet  editor after Dündar, as well as nine writers and board members from the newspaper. Using state of emergency powers, in November the government suspended by decree the activities of 370 nongovernmental associations, among them a children’s rights group, three lawyers’ associations with a human rights focus, and women’s rights and humanitarian organizations in the southeast.  Authorities frequently impose arbitrary bans on public assemblies and violently disperse peaceful demonstrations. For the second year running, the Istanbul governor’s office banned the annual Istanbul Gay and Trans Pride marches in June 2016, citing concerns about security threats and public order.”


Northern Kurdistan since the beginning of the Turkish military assault following the ending of peace talks in 2015 continues to raise serious international concern:

“In Cizre security forces’ attacks killed and injured unarmed residents including children and destroyed civilian homes. Around 130 wounded militants and un-armed activists sheltering in three basements surrounded by the security forces were killed in circumstances which the state has neither explained nor effectively investigated.  Blanket curfews continued for many months during security operations in Cizre and other towns and neighborhoods, impeding access for journalists and human rights investigators. Authorities demolished large areas of the majority Kurdish cities of Diyarbakır, Şirnak, Nusaybin, and Yüksekova. In June, the government introduced a law making any prosecution of the military and public officials, including the police, engaged in counterterrorism operations dependent on administrative permission. The law effectively grants immunity from prosecution to the security forces for abuses committed in the recent operations in the southeast in violation of Turkey’s duty to investigate such abuses. In May, the government secured the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of 148 deputies, 53 of them members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) facing investigation on terrorism charges. In August, the government introduced a decree appointing trustees to take over 28 municipalities (24 of them in the southeast), removing elected mayors and council members from office. By mid-November, 53 had been dismissed and 39, including Gültan Kişanak and Firat Anli, co-mayors of Diyarbakır, arrested pending investigation. In November, nine HDP members of parliament including party leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ were arrested and placed in pretrial detention…”


Like in Turkey, in Iran Kurds also suffer because of their lack of a state of their own or one who protects their identity and their rights: “On August 2, (Iranian) authorities announced that they had executed at least 20 alleged members of a group Iran considers a terrorist organization on charges of  moharebeh, or “enmity against God.” Rights groups believe that these individuals were among a group of 33 Sunni Kurdish men arrested in 2009 and 2010, and sentenced to death in unfair trials after enduring abuses and torture in detention.”


And while these abuses continue what of Turkey’s neighbours and partners in the European Union and NATO? HRW has nothing but criticism to add:

“The EU-Turkey migration deal and desire for Turkey to host asylum seekers who would otherwise travel to the EU, reinforced the EU’s reluctance to use its declining leverage with Turkey. In their relationship with Turkey, the EU and its member states largely appeared to prioritize strategic interests over the promotion of human rights, while issuing repeated statements expressing concern over the growing crackdown. The European Commission progress report described negative developments over the year yet failed to capture the severity and extent of the human rights crisis in Turkey. With the Obama administration primarily focused on seeking Ankara’s cooperation in the fight against ISIS and other armed militant groups, human rights were also not a primary focus of relations in 2016.”


Likewise, we are told, the UN Committee against Torture, in its April review of Turkey, expressed serious concern about “numerous credible reports of law enforcement officials engaging in torture and ill-treatment of detainees while responding to perceived and alleged security threats in the southeastern part of the country.”


And: “…in October, the Council of Europe’s commissioner of human rights issued a memorandum on the serious human rights implications of the measures taken under Turkey’s state of emergency.”


So much for Turkey, with 2017 holding out little hope for positive change as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s grip on power is further consolidated.


…In China: “More than three decades after pledging to “reform and open up,” there are few signs the Chinese Communist Party intends to change its authoritarian posture.”


And in Tibet the situation is even more outrageous making one questions the accuracy of Mao’s 1959 perception of the people: “heroes home-bound in the evening mist…”

Shoashan Revisited (1959)

Like a dim dream recalled, I curse the long-fled past

My native soil two and thirty years gone by.

The red flag roused the serf, halberd in hand,

While the despot’s black talons held his whip aloft.

Bitter sacrifice strengthens bold resolve

Which dares

to make sun and moon shine in new skies.

Happy, I see wave upon wave of paddy and beans,

And all around heroes home-bound in the evening mist.


“Tibetans continue to face routine denial of basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement. In 2016 authorities prioritized rights-abusing “anti-splittism” and “stability maintenance” campaigns despite the absence of tangible threats, and forbade almost all residents of the Tibet Autonomous Republic (TAR) from foreign travel.”  At the same time: “…the Tibetan writers Shokjang and Lomik were given three and seven-and-a-half year sentences, respectively, and Lu Konchok Gyatso and Tashi Wangchuk remained in custody at time of writing, one for planning to publish a book and the other for speaking to the  New York Times about the loss of Tibetan language teaching. At time of writing, two more Tibetans had self-immolated in 2016, both in Sichuan. At least four Tibetans were believed to have died in custody, including Kandze nun Yeshe Lhakdron, who has not been seen since her arrest in 2008…”


Prison conditions in Cuba raised concern: “Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress for abuses. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denied medical care.”


…Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians: “Israel continued in 2016 to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights, to facilitate the transfer of Israeli civilians to the occupied West Bank, and to severely restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip.”


…Or Migrant Workers in Qatar: “Low-paid migrant workers, mostly from Asia and to a lesser extent Africa, continued to face abuse and exploitation. Workers typically pay exorbitant recruitment fees. Employers regularly take control of workers’ passports when they arrive in Qatar. Many migrant workers complain that employers failed to pay their wages on time, and sometimes not at all”


And what of the so-called ‘free world’ those with developed economies:

“In October 2015, Canada’s Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won power in national elections and signaled a change in Canadian politics. However, the new government faces important human rights challenges, including violence against indigenous women and girls, the rights of indigenous peoples, the impact of Canada’s extractive and garment industries abroad, and children in detention.”


In Britain: Britain’s Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May went on the record to state:  “’…activist left-wing human rights lawyers’ would ‘never again’ be allowed to pursue claims on behalf of victims of human rights abuse by UK military forces. She was apparently referring to cases brought against the Ministry of Defence in relation to abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government wants to exempt UK forces operating overseas from human rights law.”


In the United States and despite its reputation for civil and political rights: “those least able to de-fend their rights in court or through the political process—members of racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, immigrants, children, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses. ”


Like many, HRW also has concerns over the upcoming ‘reign’ of President Trump:

“The election of Donald Trump as president in November 2016 capped a campaign marked by misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric and Trump’s embrace of policies that would cause tremendous harm to vulnerable communities, contravene the United States’ core human rights obligations, or both. Trump’s campaign proposals included deporting millions of unauthorized immigrants, changing US law to allow torture of terrorism suspects, and “load[ing] up” the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. President-elect Trump also pledged to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 20 million previously uninsured Americans access health insurance and to nominate “pro-life” Supreme Court justices who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow individual states to criminalize abortion…”


The Death Penalty in the United States is also of serious concern to human rights advocates: “At time of writing, the United States had executed 18 people in 2016, the lowest number since 1992.  Thirty-one states still allow for the death penalty, though in 2016 only five states carried out executions, led by Texas and Georgia. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state’s death penalty statute, and the Delaware Attorney General announced that he would not appeal the decision. Nebraska reinstated its death penalty because of a November popular referendum. California residents voted to retain the state’s death penalty”


Prisons in the USA where “2.3 million people are behind bars in the United States, the largest reported incarcerated population in the world” are also cause for concern. Likewise as the many protests showed, in many parts of America police stand indicted for excessive force including unjustified killing. The situation does not improve for young people: “…on any given day, approximately 50,000 children in the United States are held in correctional facilities. This number represents a 50 percent drop from 1999, but is still one of the highest rates of juvenile detention in the world.”


The New York Times drew attention to the report particularly as for the first time in 27 years of HRW reports, the USA, it says, becomes one of the biggest threats to Human Rights globally as a result of the election of Donald J. Trump: “…the human-rights advocacy group declared that his path to power, in a campaign marked by “misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric,” could “cause tremendous harm to vulnerable communities, contravene the United States’ core human rights obligations, or both…Human Rights Watch places Mr. Trump’s rise in the context of a populist movement sweeping the Western world, most notably in the British vote to leave the European Union. Beyond the West, the report explores the rise of authoritarian leaders in Turkey and Egypt and the growing appeal of strongmen in Russia and China.” (The New York Times, on January 12 , 2017.)


Finally the Report also includes some interesting insights: for instance in Armenia the right to Palliative Care, (a crucial human need at a time of suffering most of us will not avoid) is significantly diminished: “Authorities continue to discuss reforming complicated and time-consuming prescription and procurement procedures that create unnecessary obstacles in accessing essential opioid medications. Current regulations obstruct delivery of adequate palliative care, condemning most patients with life-limiting illnesses to unnecessary suffering. Lack of oral opioids, tight police controls on injectable opioids, and restrictive policies on procurement, prescription, and disbursement are inconsistent with many World Health Organization palliative care recommendations.”

Palliative care in Canada is also investigated: “In June 2016, Canada enacted legislation to allow people with “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” that cause enduring and intolerable suffering to seek assistance from a physician or nurse practitioner to end their lives, acting on a February 2015 Supreme Court ruling.  While the government has discussed a number of possible measures to address the significant gaps in the availability of hospice palliative care in the country it has yet to make a clear commitment to do so, or to take the urgent steps necessary to ensure that Canadians who will die of natural causes—likely the vast majority—can live the final stretches of their lives with dignity”

In Russia palliative care also raises concerns: “According to Russian experts, 1 million Russians need effective pain treatment, and at least 300,000 die annually without it. A July government roadmap sets out plans to improve access to and quality of pain relief, including for children. However, access to morphine, an inexpensive and effective pain remedy, remains overly restricted.”


The overall report speaks for itself, unlike the inventory of its victims who are unable to speak unless we chose to do so, on their behalf…


Kenneth Roth, (HRW Executive Director)

What is needed in the face of this global assault on human rights is a vigorous

reaffirmation and defense of the basic values underpinning these rights.”


Now you can only wonder what impact this report will have in a world facing so many dangers?


Kenneth Roth, (HRW Executive Director)

Media outlets should help to highlight the dangerous trends underway, tempering their coverage of today’s statements and conduct with analysis of the longer term ramifications. They should also make a special effort to expose and rebut the propaganda and “fake news” that certain partisans generate….Lies do not become truth just because propagated by an army of internet trolls or a legion of partisans. Echo chambers of falsehoods are not inevitable. Facts remain powerful, which is why autocrats go to such lengths to censor those who report inconvenient truths, especially about human rights abuse.”


Download the Report at:


séamas carraher





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