More than half of Hudson River tidal marshes were created accidentally by humans

In a new study of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise, geologist and first author Brian Yellen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and colleagues observed that Hudson River Estuary marshes are growing upward at a rate two to three times faster than sea level rise, “suggesting that they should be resilient to accelerated sea level rise in the future,” he says.

Identifying where to reforest after wildfire

In the aftermath of megafires that devastated forests of the western United States, attention turns to whether forests will regenerate on their own or not. Forest managers can now look to a newly enhanced, predictive mapping tool to learn where forests are likely to regenerate on their own and where replanting efforts may be beneficial.

Water limitations in the tropics offset carbon uptake from arctic greening

More plants and longer growing seasons in the northern latitudes have converted parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia to deeper shades of green. Some studies translate this Arctic greening to a greater global carbon uptake. But new research shows that as Earth’s climate is changing, increased carbon absorption by plants in the Arctic is being offset by a corresponding decline in the tropics.

Turkey: YouTube Precedent Threatens Free Expression

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YouTube announced on December 16, 2020 that it will appoint a local representative in Turkey to comply with the country’s recently amended internet law.
© 2020 StockSnap on Pixabay

(Istanbul) – YouTube announced on December 16, 2020, that it will appoint a local representative in Turkey to comply with the country’s recently amended internet law, making it much more susceptible to content removal and take-down requests by the Turkish authorities, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, and İFÖD said today. Such a move will inevitably lead to an increase in arbitrary censorship, compromise people’s privacy and right of access to information, and could implicate YouTube in human rights violations.

The decision also sets a dangerous precedent that makes it harder for other tech companies to refuse to appoint a local representative in Turkey, and more difficult for YouTube and other companies to refuse to appoint local representatives in countries around the world with weak rule of law frameworks and equally problematic legislation that may require it. Rather than cooperate with this form of state interference with freedom of expression, YouTube should be a partner in efforts to challenge the law and champion the right to free speech.

“The main social media companies quite rightly have so far chosen not to comply with this draconian law, which facilitates censorship,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “YouTube’s decision to comply with the requirement to set up a local representative in the belief that it will be possible to ride out the storm and hold out against a flood of take-down requests is deeply misguided and blinkered to the deplorable climate for free speech in Turkey.”

In reaching its decision, YouTube had little to no consultation with the main civil society groups working on free expression related issues in Turkey. But its announcement stated that it would “continue to preserve the platform’s vibrance and openness,” and that the company’s appointment of a local representative “will not change how YouTube reviews content removal requests, nor will it change how YouTube handles or holds user data.” Google directed ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch to YouTube’s official statement.

The announcement is deeply disappointing and troubling, reflecting as it does the company’s failure to understand the existing threats and violations to freedom of expression in Turkey and how this will facilitate further erosion of that right, the organizations said. Critical expression is routinely censored in Turkey and far-reaching executive influence over courts means that the judiciary rarely protects free speech.

The changes to Turkey’s Internet Law in July oblige companies to appoint a local representative or face the threat of advertising bans and subsequently bandwidth reduction of a company’s platforms, potentially leaving them unusable. However, the appointment of a representative in adherence to the law brings with it the obligation to comply with unjustified and politically motivated take-down and content removal requests by the Turkish authorities.

Social media companies are well aware of the enormous number of such requests Turkey currently makes in violation of the right to freedom of expression and information. According to research carried out by İFÖD’s EngelliWeb initiative, by the end of 2019, Turkey had blocked access to 408,494 websites, 130,000 URLs, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos, and 6,200 pieces of Facebook content. For this reason, Turkey cannot be considered a safe operating environment, for YouTube’s own staff or for the platform’s users.

“In the absence of due process and an independent judiciary, including functioning democratic institutions such as the Constitutional Court, it will be impossible for YouTube or any social media platform to protect the rights of users in Turkey as they will become the long arm of the Turkish state,” said Yaman Akdeniz, one of the founders of İFÖD, the Turkish Freedom of Expression Association.

ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch have both said that the establishment of local representatives for tech companies in some other countries can help them navigate and better understand the different contexts in which they operate. However, this depends on the existence of a legal environment in which it is possible to challenge unfair removal requests before independent courts.

The fragile rule of law context and hostile environment in Turkey means that YouTube or other companies will find it very difficult if not impossible to resist unfair removal requests or requests for data and that they will be unable to successfully challenge these requests through the courts. Firms that decide to move into hostile environments find that this can seriously backfire and the companies can become implicated in human rights abuses, as has been demonstrated by Facebook and Google’s involvement in Vietnam.

Companies like YouTube have a responsibility to respect human rights and mitigate harm as is set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It is difficult to reconcile YouTube’s decision to establish a local representative with their responsibility under the Guiding Principles.

“The tech companies should not bow to this pressure or enter into behind-closed-doors agreements with the authorities,” said Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19. “As long as the environment for freedom of expression and the rule of law is this hostile in Turkey, other social media platforms should continue not to comply with the amendments to the Internet law.”

ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, and İFÖD call on YouTube to:

In consultation with civil society, reconsider its decision to appoint a local representative, given the enormous pressure it is likely to face from the Turkish authorities to remove content;
Urgently clarify how the company intends to respect the rights to freedom of expression and privacy in Turkey; and
Publish the company’s Human Rights Impact Assessment that led to the decision to appoint a representative office in Turkey which can be served with content take-down notifications.

ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, and İFÖD continue to urge the Turkish government to repeal the new law, which will negatively affect millions of users of social media platforms in Turkey. They urge other tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok, to continue to hold the line against compliance to protect the freedom of expression of their users in Turkey.

Green Bay Region COVID-19 Nonprofit Support and Response Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: COVID-19, Basic Needs, Human Services, Nonprofit Support, Public Health

“The Greater Green Bay Community Foundation has activated an Emergency Response Fund and the Green Bay Packers have established the Packers Give Back COVID-19 Community Relief Fund to provide nonprofit organizations with flexible resources to address the impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis on our community, including immediate basic needs, gaps in service and operational challenges.

We are committed to a collaborative, strategic and nimble process based on the most up-to-date community information and a continuous assessment of the situation. We will apply the same level of diligence through this process as we do to all our grantmaking. Our team is committed to working beyond the grant to understand the need for and impact of the dollars in the community.”

Funder: The Greater Green Bay Community Foundation
“A nonprofit organization with a 501(c)(3) designation by the IRS, a group fiscally sponsored by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a governmental body, such as a school or municipality.” Must directly serve the people of Brown, Kewaunee or Oconto counties.

>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s GRANT LISTINGS

>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s COVID-19 GRANT LISTINGS

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Early Childhood Educator Award Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Early Education, Educator/Teacher Support, Child Care, Teaching
Jan. 29, 2021

“We are happy to announce some very exciting news! The Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF) has merged with First Up. We are also thrilled to share with you the 2021 application for the Terri Lynne Lokoff Teacher Awards. Fifty awards are presented each year. Every award recipient receives a $1000 cash prize, a trip to Philadelphia for the award ceremony (Covid permitting), and a chance to win the Helene Marks Award with the additional honor of being named the National Child Care Teacher of the Year. If you know a child care teacher, or are yourself a child care teacher who embodies these ideals, please review the application and consider applying.”

Funder: The Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF) and First Up
“Full-time child care teachers employed in a home, group or center-based program that is fully compliant with local and state regulations for operating child care programs.”

>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s GRANT LISTINGS

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Satellite data identifies companies fishing in high seas

A team of researchers, using satellite data and other analytical tools, has identified companies fishing in high seas—waters that lie outside of national jurisdiction where fishing has raised fears about environmental and labor violations. The study, which appears in the journal One Earth, is the first to link companies to fishing activity in these largely unregulated areas.

New York: Inquiry Confirms Police Misconduct at Protests

(New York) – The recommendations by New York City’s oversight agency for changes in police department operations in a December 18, 2020 report appear to fall far short of the reforms needed, Human Rights Watch said today. The Department of Investigation, in its report, criticized the New York Police Department (NYPD) for its misconduct during protests that erupted across the city following George Floyd’s killing in May.

In a video response, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “sorry” and acknowledged that some “individual officers did something wrong” and that “there has to be discipline.” Yet the mayor has given no indication that senior level commanders would be held to account for their roles in planning, overseeing, and spreading misinformation about the brutal police assaults on protesters that Human Rights Watch and others have called for. De Blasio, when asked whether he would take disciplinary action against Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, during Brian Lehrer’s “Ask the Mayor” segment on public radio on December 18, said the police officers did not commit “fireable offenses,” but “we have to do it better going forward.”

“Mayor de Blasio’s apology and promise to do better is a woefully inadequate response to the scale of police misconduct and abuse that has now been documented in detail by New York City’s own Department of Investigation,” said Laura Pitter, deputy US program director at Human Rights Watch. “Six months on, the protesters, observers, medics, and others who were beaten, pepper sprayed, and arbitrarily detained for exercising their basic human rights deserve to see justice delivered.”

The Department of Investigation confirmed much of what Human Rights Watch and others documented regarding police misconduct during the protests across New York City in May and June. During the Mott Haven protest in the Bronx on June 4, which Human Rights Watch extensively documented in a report, the agency found that the NYPD’s “mass arrest of protesters for curfew violations, in the absence of evidence of actual violence, was disproportionate,” and that the arrests were “accomplished in part by using physical force against protesters, including striking them with batons.”

The Department of Investigation recommends, among other things, creating new police units, adjusting the ways that officers are trained, and changing the NYPD investigation and accountability structure. But these changes will not improve the city’s ability to impose disciplinary measures independent of the NYPD, Human Rights Watch said.

In its report “‘Kettling’ Protesters in the Bronx: Systemic Police Brutality and its Costs in the United States,” Human Rights Watch recommended that New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board should be re-envisioned to make it a truly independent community oversight body, with full access to police records, subpoena power, authority to conduct investigations, and the power to discipline officers and command staff.

Human Rights Watch also recommended reducing the role of police in addressing societal problems. This should include shifting resources from policing to support services that directly address underlying issues such as substance use disorders, homelessness, and poverty and that improve access to quality education, health care, and mental health support.

“Mayor de Blasio should take urgent action to appropriately discipline those most responsible, and to start addressing the structural problems with policing in New York City,” Pitter said. “If he fails to do so, he too should be held to account.”

US: Protect Cameroonians From Deportation

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A patrol of Cameroonian gendarmes during a political rally in the Omar Bongo Square, Buea, capital of the South-West region, on October 3, 2018. 
© 2018 Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should protect all Cameroonians in the United States from deportation because of serious threats to their safety in Cameroon, Human Rights Watch said today.

The government should designate Cameroonians in the United States for temporary protected status, which is intended to protect nationals and habitual residents of countries experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions from being returned to those countries if they are not able to return in safety. US authorities should also investigate allegations that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel physically abused Cameroonian asylum seekers to force them to sign documents related to their deportation.

“The US government should suspend deportations to Cameroon because of the serious threats Cameroonians face to their lives and freedom upon return,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “In addition to a generalized risk of serious harm because of violence in the Far North, North-West, and South-West regions, deportees to Cameroon also face a risk of torture and ill-treatment because of their real or imputed opposition to the government.”

Immigrant rights groups and the media reported that ICE deported more than 90 Cameroonians on two deportation flights, in October and November 2020. Human Rights Watch confirmed that at least several dozens of those deported had sought but did not receive asylum, according to court documents and interviews with lawyers, activists, and volunteers.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Cameroon in the past year in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions, where violence has been acute since late 2016, as armed separatists seek independence for the country’s minority Anglophone regions. Violence has displaced tens of thousands of people in the past year, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homes since the start of the violence.

Security forces have responded abusively to separatist attacks, often targeting civilians, their lives, and livelihoods. Armed separatists have killed, tortured, assaulted, and kidnapped hundreds of people. They have also prevented humanitarian workers and teachers from doing their jobs, depriving children of access to education. Few people responsible for serious abuses have been held accountable since the crisis in the English-speaking regions began in late 2016.

In the Far North region, the Islamist armed group Boko Haram has deliberately attacked civilians, including internally displaced people, with almost daily killings, kidnappings, thefts, and destruction of property.

The government has also cracked down on political opponents and opposition party supporters, charging hundreds participating in peaceful protests in September 2020 with terrorism and rebellion, and using the pandemic as pretext to silence opposition and quell dissent.

Anglophones deported to Cameroon face a serious risk of abuse by government security forces because they may be assumed to have links to separatists, or from the separatists themselves. Torture is common in official and unofficial detention centers, including military bases, where many people are being held incommunicado.

Cameroonians fleeing the Far North region are at serious risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and harassment if they are returned, as the government has accused many residents of supporting Boko Haram. Cameroonians who are seen as sympathizers to opposition parties can also face threats if returned due to the government’s crackdown on the political opposition.

Given these conditions, many Cameroonians qualify as refugees under US asylum and international refugee law. Cameroonians in Africa will also qualify under the expanded refugee definition in the 1969 Africa Refugee Convention, which recognizes as refugees those who have fled their country “owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality.”

While asylum approval rates show that many Cameroonians in the United States have qualified for asylum or for withholding of removal because of the risk of persecution, the US government should designate Cameroonians for temporary protected status because of the “ongoing armed conflict within the state…[and] extraordinary and temporary conditions,” that constitute broader threats that prevent nationals of Cameroon from returning there in safety, as defined in US law.

Despite the wide and continuing range of risks in Cameroon, the rate of granting asylum for Cameroonians in US immigration courts dropped from 81 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 62 percent in fiscal year 2020. Cameroonians, along with asylum seekers from other African countries, have faced increased detention under the Trump administration. Studies have found that detained immigrants in general are less likely to obtain legal representation and to win asylum or other forms of protection from deportation. The Trump administration has also made numerous changes to the asylum system designed to make it extremely difficult for anyone to obtain asylum.

Recent complaints filed by US immigrant rights advocates allege abuses by ICE personnel against Cameroonian asylum seekers in detention. These include threats, coercion, and physical violence to force asylum seekers to sign documents related to their deportation. These complaints should also be investigated and corrective action taken by the Department of Homeland Security.

The two known flights of deportees from the United States to Cameroon, on October 13 and November 11, carried a reported 57 and 37 Cameroonians respectively. The more than 90 Cameroonians deported by ICE in the first two months of fiscal year 2021 already exceeds the total number of Cameroonians that ICE deported to Cameroon in fiscal years 2020 (49), 2019 (74) and 2018 (68). 

Human Rights Watch has also called on the US government to suspend all deportations during the coronavirus pandemic to avoid contributing to the global spread of the virus.

“Cameroonians fleeing very real danger in their country deserve protection from abuse and a fair assessment of their claims for asylum and related forms of protection in US law,” Allegrozzi said. “The US government should suspend deportations of Cameroonians and ensure that all ICE abuse allegations are properly and impartially investigated.”


Italy: Flawed Migrant Regularization Program

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An immigrant worker picks clementines in Corgiliano-Rossano, Calabria, southern Italy, December 12, 2020. 
© Alfonso Di Vincenzo/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

(Milan) – An Italian program to provide undocumented migrants with a pathway to residency adopted amid the Covid-19 pandemic did not live up to its promise, Human Rights Watch said today.

It is too early to know how many people will ultimately benefit from it. But flaws in the program’s design and implementation resulted in a missed opportunity to address myriad vulnerabilities of undocumented migrants, including widespread exploitation in Italy’s agricultural sector.

“Italy was rightly praised for providing undocumented migrants a pathway to residency amid the pandemic,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia division director at Human Rights Watch. “But the tragic truth is that the effort was designed and rolled out in a way that excluded hundreds of thousands of people and didn’t even reach most of the farmworkers it was supposed to benefit.”

The program was adopted in May 2020 to “guarantee adequate protection of individual and collective health” and “facilitate the emergence of irregular employment relationships” – to bring informal and undocumented work out of the shadows. In practice, the measure responded to a strategic economic interest in ensuring that essential sectors had enough workers rather than focusing on a rights-based approach. Overall, 220,000 people applied under the program, just under a third of the estimated 690,000 undocumented migrants in Italy.

The program created two pathways for undocumented migrants to acquire a temporary residency permit. An employer sponsorship option limited to the agricultural sector, including livestock and fisheries, and the home care sectors, including care for people in their home and domestic work. It was available to people already employed irregularly – or with someone willing to hire them in these sectors – and who could prove they were in Italy before March 8. The other was a jobseeker permit available to people who became undocumented on or after October 31, 2019 and could prove that they were previously employed in agriculture or home care.

Through interviews with undocumented migrants in Foggia, Naples, and Rome, as well as lawyers, aid organizations, and labor organizers, Human Rights Watch identified key failings of the regularization program. First and foremost, the narrow scope of the program denied access to hundreds of thousands of people. Undocumented workers in construction, hospitality, and logistics, for example, were unable to apply.

It also arguably created an opportunity for fraud and further exploitation of vulnerable migrants, with reports of fictitious labor contracts being sold for up to €7,000 (US$ 8,515).

“Being a person outside your own country and undocumented is like being an animal alone in the forest and when the lion sees you, he takes you and eats you,” a 35-year-old undocumented man from Ivory Coast told Human Rights Watch.  

Fewer than 13,000 people applied for the innovative jobseeker permit due to the seemingly arbitrary cut-off date and other restrictive requirements. Asylum seekers, many of whom face the prospect of becoming undocumented if their claims are turned down, given Italy’s high rejection rate, were barred from applying under this pathway.

Confusion about whether and how asylum seekers had access to the regularization program was just one of many issues that required clarification up to and even after the application deadline. While many of the ministerial circulars and informational bulletins introduced improvements, the lack of clarity from the beginning may have limited the number of people who applied.

Eligible workers in the agricultural sector faced significant obstacles. Only 15 percent of applications under the employer sponsorship pathway came from this sector, a reflection of the limits of making access dependent on the will of employers.

Agricultural workers often do not know their employers due to the illegal caporalato system of intermediaries. Caporali, or gangmasters, reportedly were asking for thousands of euros to facilitate contracts with employers. A few workers told Human Rights Watch that their employers also asked for exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for sponsorship, while all the workers who successfully applied said they had to pay the €500 ($608) application fee themselves.

As they process applications, the Italian authorities should ensure that clarifications included in implementing circulars that benefit workers are fully respected. Workers whose employers withdraw from the process or who are the victim of a scam should not be penalized, and their applications should be processed.

The government should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent evaluation of the 2020 program, including input from civil society organizations, with a focus on its impact on the human rights of undocumented workers and their access to the regularization program. Future regularization programs should not be limited to particular sectors of the labor market, give greater agency to the individual rather than depend on employer sponsorship, and include safeguards against fraud. The authorities should ensure legal certainty and clarity in regularization instruments before they are put in operation as well as timely information campaigns.

Italy should affirm its commitment to respecting the rights of all migrants by ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and signing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

The Covid-19 pandemic gave new urgency to calls for regularization programs, as a way both to minimize vulnerability to rights violations and to protect public health. Despite evidence over the years that regularization programs in Europe have proven to be an effective policy tool with positive long-term benefits – though no substitute for holistic migration and asylum policies that provide safe and legal channels – they remain controversial in the European Union.

“Italy could provide leadership within the EU if it learns the lessons from this regularization,” Sunderland said. “When done right, regularization programs can address situations of vulnerability and exploitation, and help lay the foundation for more comprehensive, forward-looking migration policies.”

For more information about the program and the findings, please see below.

From August through October 2020, Human Rights Watch interviewed people remotely and in-person in Milan, Rome, and Foggia, including 18 male migrant workers in the agricultural and home care sectors; 19 lawyers, trade unionists, and representatives of associations providing assistance to undocumented migrants; and an agricultural sector employer. Human Rights Watch also met online with Labor and Interior Ministry officials and sent letters of inquiry to three agriculture business associations – Coldiretti Nazionale, ConfAgricoltura, and Cia-Agricoltori Italiani. Coldiretti Nazionale sent a written reply on November 12. The others have not replied. All names of workers have been changed to protect their privacy. The research focused on the agricultural sector because of the low number of applications.

Legal and Policy Framework

Although under international human rights law undocumented migrants have the same rights as others, not only are some of those rights subject to restriction but in practice, they remain vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. In the absence of holistic migration policies that provide for legal migration channels and minimize the number of people who become undocumented, regularization programs represent an effective policy tool to address the insecurity and vulnerability affecting people without legal status. The Global Migration Group, an inter-agency group of the United Nations, has called regularization “a key means of stopping exploitation of migrants in irregular situations.”

The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, a core human rights treaty, requires states parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that situations of irregular stay “do not persist,” and foresees the possibility of regularization.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a non-binding statement of principles Italy refused to sign when adopted in 2018, encourages states to “develop accessible and expedient procedures that facilitate transitions from one status to another … as well as to facilitate access for migrants in an irregular status to an individual assessment that may lead to regular status … with clear and transparent criteria … as an option to reduce vulnerabilities.” An explicit call for “regularization options” in an initial draft of the Compact was deleted.

Regularization programs are not infrequent in the European Union. PICUM, a network of organizations advocating on behalf of undocumented migrants, found that 24 of 27 member states had some form of regularization between 1996 and 2018. A study published in 2009 by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development of regularization practices in all EU member states concluded that these initiatives had an overall positive impact, with only limited evidence they might create a “pull effect,” and could be understood as responding to broad objectives of EU migration policy.

Calls to regularize undocumented migrants intensified amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, the UN special rapporteurs on the rights of migrants and on trafficking in persons urged states to “take steps towards the regularization of undocumented migrants whenever necessary, in view of facilitating their access to health services during the fight against the pandemic.” In June, the UN secretary-general issued guidelines on Covid-19 and people on the move, calling on governments around the world to explore “various models of regularization pathways” in the spirit of an inclusive public health approach and in recognition of the “important contribution made by people on the move to our societies during this crisis.” 

Undocumented Migrants: Harsh Living, Working Conditions

An estimated 690,000 undocumented migrants live in Italy. The abolition in 2018 of the residency permit for humanitarian reasons (permesso umanitario) increased the ranks of the undocumented. ISPI, a leading Italian think tank, estimates that the number of undocumented migrants in Italy increased by over 37,400 people by July 2020 as a result of eliminating that permit.

Undocumented migrants in Italy are particularly vulnerable to violations of their fundamental rights. They face exploitation at work, obstacles to health care, and difficulties finding affordable and decent housing, among other problems. They are unlikely to report labor exploitation due to fear of arrest, detention, and deportation. In 2019, the authorities issued only 29 special residency permits under Italian law for undocumented workers who reported exploitative practices and cooperated with criminal proceedings.

Undocumented and informal work is prevalent in the agricultural sector. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 150,000 undocumented migrants are working as day laborers. In a normal year, hundreds of thousands of workers, the majority from Eastern Europe, come to Italy on formal, seasonal contracts. Border closures amid the pandemic made this circular labor migration impossible and became one of the key arguments in favor of the regularization program.

Farm work has low pay, long hours, and difficult working conditions. People interviewed described working up to 10 hours a day for as little as €3 ($3.65) per hour. Following her October 2018 visit, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery concluded that many agricultural workers were subjected to “labour exploitation resulting in slavery,” due to hazardous work, coercion, and underpayment.

The terrible living conditions of seasonal agricultural workers in Italy have been amply documented. While some informal settlements are seasonal in nature, some like the settlement of Borgo Mezzanone, known as La Pista, near Foggia, in Apulia, have become permanent ghettos without formal access to electricity and running water. Burak, a 33-year-old man from Sierra Leone, lived in the settlement for three months until he found what he felt was a much better situation living in a carwash. “I have light and water now at least,” he said. “Without papers, you cannot rent a house here. … No one wants to stay [in the settlement] but it is better than the streets.”

Concern about inadequate, unsanitary housing and obstacles to health care amid the public health emergency caused by Covid-19 was one of the arguments in favor of the regularization program. By law, undocumented migrants in Italy can obtain a temporary health card that entitles them to care analogous to that available to other residents with legal permits and citizens. But Italian organizations providing services to migrants have documented logistical and bureaucratic obstacles people face in obtaining the temporary health card and finding healthcare services, including lack of information, inability to register due to the lack of a formal address, linguistic barriers, and mistrust in public authorities.

Most of the workers interviewed said they could not go to a doctor or get regular health care. “I can’t go to the hospital without documents,” Burak said. “Right now, I go to the pharmacy if I am sick.”

Emmanuel, 35, from Ivory Coast, who has lived in Italy for four years, said:

Being a person outside your own country and undocumented is like being an animal alone in the forest and when the lion sees you, he takes you and eats you …. The only thing we ask, we who are the last, we who are the invisible, is that they think about us.

The Regularization Program

The regularization program was included in a broad stimulus aid package adopted in May amid the pandemic. The objectives written into the law were twofold: to “guarantee adequate protection of individual and collective health” and to “facilitate the emergence of irregular employment relationships” – to bring informal and undocumented work out of the shadows. In practice, the measure – the ninth ad hoc program of this type in Italy since 1982 – responded to a strategic economic interest in ensuring enough workers in essential labor sectors rather than a rights-based approach.

The program created two separate administrative pathways for undocumented migrants to regularize their status. First, an employer sponsorship scheme limited to the agricultural sector, including livestock and fisheries, and the home care sectors, including care in the home and domestic work, available to people already employed irregularly – or with someone willing to hire them in these sectors – and who could prove they were in Italy before March 8, 2020.

In this case, the length of the residency permit is determined by the length of the employment contract but can be converted into another type of permit, including based on work in a different sector. Because one of the key objectives was to address undeclared work in these sectors regardless of status, Italian and EU citizens were also eligible for this pathway.

Second, a pathway for people who became undocumented on or after October 31, 2019 and could prove that they were previously employed in the agricultural or home care sectors, to apply for a six-month permit to seek work in these sectors. This permit can also be converted.

Applications for both pathways were accepted between June 1 and August 15, 2020. According to official Interior Ministry data, 207,542 people applied under the employer sponsorship system, 85 percent for home care workers and only 15 percent for the agricultural sector. There were only 12,986 applications for a residence permit for the purpose of seeking employment. The official data does not provide a gender breakdown.

It is too early to know how many applications will prove successful. It is already clear, however, that many undocumented workers were unable to apply because there were excluded a priori by the narrow scope of the program or because of lack of clarity about eligibility and the limitations of the employer sponsorship approach.

Key Concerns

Restrictive Scope

The decision to restrict the program to sectors considered strategic amid the pandemic denied tens of thousands of people the opportunity to regularize their status. The significant number of undocumented migrants working in construction, logistics, and the hospitality industry, for example, were ineligible to apply.

Some organizations and trade unions called for a broad amnesty for all undocumented migrants in Italy given the public health crisis, while others proposed amendments to broaden the scope of the employment-based program when parliament converted the government decree into law, in July. All amendments were rejected.

Hamid, 21, an Egyptian who has lived and worked in Italy since 2014, expressed his frustration at being excluded: “I had a residency permit as I was a child when I came here, but I lost it [it expired at 18]. I have always worked. I work in a carwash now … why can’t I [benefit from] regularization?”

Tatiana Esposito, head of the Labor Ministry’s immigration and integration department, acknowledged the limited reach of the program and said the agency worked with other parts of the government to broaden the number of beneficiaries in the implementing circulars. For example, a July 2020 circular clarified that part-time work in either sector was sufficient to apply.

The second pathway, the jobseeker permit, was similarly restrictive. Only people who became undocumented on or after October 31, 2019 and could prove that they were previously employed in agriculture or home care, were eligible.

Only 2 out of 18 undocumented migrants interviewed applied via this pathway. Ismael, 23, from the Gambia, was able to apply because his residency permit, as an asylum seeker, expired in December 2019. He opted to forgo a final appeal against the rejection of his asylum application and had already received his new residency permit in July, valid until December. 

Four of the workers interviewed had residence permits that had expired before the cut-off date in 2019. Ibra, a 35-year-old from Senegal, was ineligible by just ten days: his humanitarian leave to remain expired on October 21. He had been unable to renew it because of the 2018 abolition of the humanitarian permit. His employer refused to sponsor him.  

Human Rights Watch was unable to determine the logic or justification for the October 31, 2019 cut-off date.

Impact of Gaps in the Law on Asylum Seekers

Gaps in the law generated confusion and may have prevented many from applying. The government issued six circulars to clarify or specify requirements, costs, and procedural questions – two of them in September and November, well after the deadline to apply. In addition to the circulars, the Interior Ministry published clarifications on a dedicated webpage.

In particular, the eligibility of asylum seekers, many of whom face the prospect of becoming undocumented due to Italy’s high rejection rate, was unclear and required clarification in three separate circulars. Authorities should have provided legal certainty and clarity about the regularization pathways before the program went into effect and then should have mounted an information campaign timed to precede the registration deadlines.

On June 19, the Interior Ministry clarified that asylum seekers could not apply for the jobseeker permit because asylum seekers are in Italy legally, with a right to work, but could apply under the employer sponsorship program, insofar as this was designed also to bring undeclared work out of the shadows, including by people with a right to be in Italy.

Then, on July 7, the ministry said that asylum seekers could apply for the jobseeker permit but would have to withdraw their asylum claim if offered the permit. On July 24, the ministry provided yet more details about the options available to asylum seekers who apply under the employer sponsorship pathway. On August 13 – two days before the deadline for applications – the ministry issued another explanatory leaflet in five languages.

Over the past two years, Italy has rejected record numbers of asylum claims, including due to the abolition of the humanitarian leave to remain in 2018. Between January 2019 and mid-May 2020, more than 91,000 asylum claims were rejected; the overall rejection rate at first instance was 80 percent.

Two asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch they did not apply for regularization because they believed they could not. Bernard, 27, from Ivory Coast, said he would have liked to apply because he fears he will be denied asylum and he is worried about losing his legal status definitively. “It would take me until tomorrow to tell you all that I will not have if I become undocumented,” he said. A third asylum seeker said he withdrew his claim to apply under the jobseeker pathway. When interviewed, he had already received a six-month permit in July.  

Employer Sponsorship

As with previous regularizations in Italy, the main pathway was via employer sponsorship. An approach based on the willingness and active participation of the employer carries with it the risk of heightening the vulnerability of undocumented workers to exploitation and abuse. It proved especially unsuited to the agricultural sector. Aboubakar Soumahoro, head of a workers organization called Lega Braccianti, said the reason there were few applications from farmworkers is “the power given exclusively to the employer, who decides life and death for fieldhands.”

Many agricultural workers do not know who their employers are. The widespread system of caporalato uses middlemen to broker recruitment and payment of agricultural workers, on an informal and ad hoc basis. Intermediaries, or caporali, who are in many cases connected to organized crime, act as a link between workers and farm owners. Depending on demand, workers can toil on different farms every day of the week. The special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery called the system “one of the main causes and consequences of slavery-like practices,” particularly in the agricultural sector in southern Italy.

Caporali, many of them migrants themselves, reportedly also served as intermediaries for the regularization program. A representative of Caritas, an aid organization connected to the Catholic Church, said at least 10 workers in the Foggia area told her a caporale had offered to find an employer willing to sponsor them for a €3,000 ($3,649) fee.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five workers who were able to approach their employers and were refused sponsorship. Burak, from Sierra Leone, said, “I asked all my old bosses who had said they wanted to help me in the past. But when the opportunity came, they said no.” Burak ultimately found someone to sponsor him with the help of a labor union. Moussa, 28, from Senegal, who has lived in Italy since 2014, said he asked his employer immediately, but was refused: “If I had papers, my life would be better. I could get a driver’s license, I would try to get a job as a mechanic, doing what I know how to do.”

In a July 2020 circular, the Labor and Interior Ministries clarified that undocumented workers who were unable to conclude the labor contract and residency permit through no fault of their own – for example, if the employer dies or the agrobusiness fails – can conclude the contract with another employer. If that is not possible, the worker “will have the right to request” a permit to remain for the purposes of seeking employment. In mid-November, the Interior Ministry issued another circular stipulating that the authorities will assess case-by-case, apparently with broad discretion, whether to give an applicant a permit to seek employment if the employer formally rescinds the offer or simply fails to follow through.

Financial Burden on Worker

Even though the procedure required employers to pay the €500 ($608) application fee, 8 out of 18 workers interviewed said their employers insisted the workers had to pay the fee themselves. Three were unable to afford the fee and lost their chance to regularize their status. Those who agreed to pay saw it as a way out of the informal settlements and a chance to lead a dignified life. Omar, from Senegal, said he paid not only the fee but also paid €250 ($304) to his employer’s wife for doing the paperwork.

Caritas Foggia said they were able to convince four out of eight employers they approached to sponsor a total of six agricultural workers. The workers paid the application fee themselves. Since then, one employer has reportedly changed his mind and will not keep the appointment with the police to formalize the employment contract. The two workers he had committed to sponsor, risk losing their money and their chance to obtain a residence permit.

In some cases, employers demanded much more money. Mathis, 51, from Guinea, who has been in Italy for 24 years, said his employer of seven years asked for €3,000 ($3,649):

To afford to eat is difficult for me, how can I pay 3,000? … I even suggested that if he would sponsor me for the permit, he could deduct what he wanted from my pay, but instead, he fired me.

Lemar, 42, from Senegal, has been living in Italy since 2011. He became undocumented in 2014 when he was unable to renew his humanitarian permit. His employer also demanded €3,000. “I didn’t do the regularization because my boss refused to take responsibility,” Lemar said.

Mara Di Lullo, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said there was little the authorities could do:

We don’t have any means to control who pays. We understand that the employer has the power to shake down the worker. If this becomes an excuse to continue a situation of abuse, the worker can go to the police with proof. They have to have the courage to report it.

Fraud and Scams

The narrow scope of the program arguably encouraged fraudulent applications and heightened the vulnerability of undocumented migrants to scams. These were features also of the 2009 and 2012 regularization programs. The International Organization for Migration described what it called “generalized fraud” in an agricultural area in southern Italy during the 2009 regularization.

Lawyers, labor union representatives, and nongovernmental workers in various parts of the country said that people had been asked for exorbitant sums of money in exchange for invented labor contracts. Based on these interviews, the going rate varied from €4,000-5,000 ($4,866 – 6,082) in Naples to €6,000-7,000 ($7,299 – 8,515) in Rome and Milan.

While Human Rights Watch did not interview anyone who said they had paid for a fictitious contract, two people said they had “hired” someone as a domestic worker to allow them to regularize their status, without charging them. Sanji, 21, from the Gambia, who works as a day laborer on farms, said he found someone willing to sponsor him as a domestic worker after his employers in the agricultural sector refused.

In a Pandemic Year, Some Good News for Children

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Students sing the national anthem before class at a secondary school in Koidu, district of Kono, Sierra Leone, November 20, 2020. 
© 2020 AP Photo/Leo Correa

This year has been devastating for children. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the education of 1.5 billion students, pushed an estimated 150 million additional children into poverty, left many without caregivers, and increased child labor, child marriage, and violence in the home.

But despite the enormous hardships, the year has also brought some good news for kids. As we finish the year, here are 10 areas of progress from 2020:

Greece ended its longstanding practice of detaining unaccompanied migrant children in jail cells.
Both Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe committed to ending the exclusion of pregnant girls and teenage mothers from school.
The US states of Minnesota and Pennsylvania both enacted laws to ban all child marriage before age 18.
Five more countries – Estonia, Malawi, Seychelles, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda – committed to protecting schools during armed conflict by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, bringing the total to 106 endorsers.
A hospital in Chicago pledged to become the first in the United States to stop performing medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex traits.
FIFA imposed a lifetime ban on the Haitian soccer federation president for systematic sexual abuse against female players, including girls.
South Sudan signed a comprehensive action plan to end violations against children in armed conflict.
Saudi Arabia announced that it would end executions of offenders for crimes committed before the age of 18.
Japan and Seychelles banned all corporal punishment of children, bringing the global total of countries with a comprehensive ban to 60.
A treaty aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labor reached universal ratification.

These examples show that progress is possible even during dark times. The coming year, 2021, will bring more challenges, including getting children back into school and responding to the pandemic’s impact on their lives. As the world tries to “build back better,” children need to be at the forefront.

Sudan: Security Forces Kill Protesters in Eastern Sudan

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Still image from a video obtained by Human Rights Watch shows three military vehicles, identified by witnesses as belonging to the RSF near Kassala Teaching Hospital, on October 15,2020.
© Anonymous

(Nairobi) – Sudanese authorities used excessive force, including lethal force, against protesters on October 15, 2020, leading to the deaths of seven protesters, including a 16-year old boy, as well as a security official, Human Rights Watch said today. About 25 people were injured, most from bullet wounds.

The protests took place in the town of Kassala two days after the prime minister, Abdallah Hamdok, dismissed the governor of Kassala state, Saleh Amar. This followed weeks of unrest between members of Amar’s Beni Amar tribe and members of the Hadandawa tribe, who opposed his appointment.

“Sudan’s transitional authorities should make clear that security forces are not above the law by promptly and strictly holding to account all those who violate it,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people of Sudan should be able to exercise their right to peaceful protest without fearing for their lives.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 11 witnesses, including doctors, about the events in Kassala by phone and reviewed video footage, photographs, and forensic reports.

On October 15, protesters gathered in Kassala’s main square to hear speeches, and around mid-morning, some protesters headed toward the state government building, near the al-Gash bridge, which connects the western and eastern parts of the town. At this intersection, security forces consisting of the Central Reserve Police (CRP), the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) tried to stop the protesters by firing live ammunition and teargas into the air. After the initial confrontation, police officers who had been stationed on a side street, fired directly at protesters killing two, including Abdalla Hussein Abubaker, 16.

A 24-year-old protester told Human Rights Watch:

I could see security forces stationed ahead of us, near the entrance of al-Gash bridge and state government building , almost 500-700 meters away. There we started hearing gunshots followed by teargas. I saw SAF soldiers shooting in the air. Suddenly, gunshots increased, and i could hear people around me saying some protesters had been hit.

The second stand-off happened outside the hospital where wounded protestors were being treated. CRP forces fired teargas at crowds gathered outside the hospital, many of whom came to donate blood. One witness said that teargas canisters were shot into the hospital. In response, protesters erected barricades at the approach to the hospital entrance.

Shortly afterward, three RSF vehicles, one of which carried the body of a dead soldier, sought access to the hospital, but protesters refused to allow the vehicles to approach the building entrance, a journalist interviewed said. Tensions mounted. Two videos, analyzed by Human Rights Watch, show the RSF vehicles reversing to move out of a crowd of protesters. One vehicle begins to turn around while people inside the vehicle can be seen shooting in the direction of the protestors. Witnesses said five people were killed.

A journalist at the scene said:

I immediately ran to find shelter behind the walls of a pharmacy near the hospital. One protester was near me and I was holding him, urging him not to expose himself to RSF. He ran out from our shelter. Seconds later, I heard a gunshot and saw him falling down with blood covering his clothes and chest. I ran toward his body. With a few others we carried him to the hospital. There the doctors said he was dead.

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Videos obtained by Human Rights Watch suggest that a protester was shot near the pink-walled pharmacy.
© Anonymous

Another video taken around the same period shows a large pool of blood at the entrance to the pharmacy. A second video also filmed in front of the pharmacy shows another pool of blood.

Sudan’s information minister announced later that day that the Attorney-General’s Office was opening an investigation into the events but blamed protesters for causing the killings by clashing with security forces. While some protesters insulted security officers, threw rocks, and set-up barricades outside the hospital, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any documented incident involving protesters that posed a clear threat to life of the security forces, or others the forces were protecting.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that Sudan relies too heavily on military or militarized forces for crowd control, and that those forces are either not properly trained in law enforcement tactics or fail to use them, instead using excessive and lethal force. In particular the forces fail to recognize their obligations to respect, protect, and facilitate protesters’ right to peaceful assembly and expression, as well as the limitations imposed on them under human rights law regarding the use of force.

International human rights standards only permit using force when strictly necessary to defend against imminent harm. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that law enforcement officials may only use force if other means remain ineffective or have no promise of achieving the intended result, and should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved. 

Human Rights Watch wrote to the attorney-general on November 24 to share its conclusions and to ask for updates and information on steps taken by the authorities in response but has received no response at time of writing.

The attorney-general should investigate and hold accountable officers involved in the unlawful use of force, including those responsible under the chain of command, and the transitional government should embark on security sector reforms. Such reforms should include abolishing immunity provisions that shield officials from accountability, vetting members of security forces to exclude anyone implicated in abuses, and ensuring that forces understand their human rights obligations and the importance of upholding them, especially in the context of crowd control, Human Rights Watch said.

“Peaceful protesters should not have to contend with the military on the streets, but instead should be met by well-trained and accountable law enforcement,” Sawyer said. “The transitional government has said it wants to break with the abusive days of Omar Bashir, but for that to happen, they have to do much more to reform abusive security forces.”

For details of elections-related abuses, please see below.

Sudan’s eastern states of Kassala and the Red Sea have experienced increasing unrest and intercommunal violence since 2019. In July 2020, Prime Minister Hamdok appointed 18 civilian state governors, including Saleh Amar, from the Beni Amar tribe, in Kassala. Amar’s appointment was met with significant resistance from members of the Hadandawa tribe because of a longstanding tribal feud. On August 28, clashes between supporters and opponents of the governor left five people dead in Kassala. On October 13, the prime minister removed Amar from the position.

Since the transitional government came to power in August 2019, popular protests for justice and reforms have continued in many parts of the country and on a number of occasions, security forces have used lethal force against protesters. On June 30, security forces in Khartoum killed one protester in a group demanding swift reforms and accountability of security forces. Two protesters were also killed on October 21 in the capital, in protests echoing similar demands.

Security forces used for crowd control at these protests are military or militarized units with a very poor track record in crowd control and who have had impunity for past abuses. The legal mandate of the Rapid Support Forces, which has a history of abuses, designates it as a regular military force, but since 2019 it has increasingly been deployed to control crowds.

The Rapid Support Forces led a brutal crackdown on protesters’ in Khartoum on June 3, 2019 and in the days following, in various Khartoum neighborhoods and neighboring Bahri and Omdurman, which left at least 120 people dead and hundreds injured. Human Rights Watch has also previously documented brutal attacks on civilians by the Rapid Support Forces in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile. The Central Reserve Police is a militarized, combat police force that has been used in counter-insurgency operations in Darfur along with RSF and other members of the military. Human Rights Watch documented the participation of the CRP in the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters in September 2013, which resulted in more than 170 deaths.

The transitional government has established several investigation committees to examine past crimes by the security forces, but despite demands for accountability, there is no indication when they will release their findings. Victims of the violent dispersal of a sit-in on June 3, 2019 in Khartoum, and their families, have expressed frustration with the slow pace and perceived lack of transparency and independence of the committee investigating those abuses. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns over its lack of expertise in sexual and gender-based violence in addition to the absence of an adequate witness protection program.

Excessive Use of Lethal Force in Kassala

State Government Building

Between 8 a.m. and approximately 11 a.m. on October 15, protesters in Kassala gathered at al-Jumhoriya square in the town center to listen to speeches. When the speeches were over, groups of protesters – on foot, motorbikes, and some in vehicles – moved toward the al-Gash bridge en route to the state government building. Security forces, including Central Reserve Police (CRP), and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) were stationed near the intersection between the bridge and the state government building. As the protesters reached the intersection between 11:30 a.m. and noon, security forces began to fire into the air.

A protester at the front of the protest described what he saw when protesters were a few meters away from three military vehicles blocking the entrance to the state government building:

SAF stopped the protesters and asked them to move away. The protesters did not move so some soldiers started shooting in the air. One soldier fired his gun on the ground, close to where we were standing. A ricochet bullet injured a protester. A SAF captain checked on his injury, said it was light. Protesters were angered about this and asked the captain to surrender the soldier and take him to the police station. The officer promised to hold the soldier accountable but refused to surrender him to the protesters or to allow him to be taken the police station.

Then a few protesters started throwing stones before a physical altercation started with some of the protesters and soldiers. SAF soldiers here started to heavily shoot in the air again to disperse the crowd. I moved away from the scene. I then saw three CRP vehicles parked on the side of the nearby street and they were also shooting. I could see some of the soldiers shooting directly at the protesters who were running away.

Another protester further away said: 

I could see that SAF and CRP soldiers were shooting in the air. Some of the CRP soldiers had teargas guns and were shooting them at the protesters. As the crowd came closer to security forces, gunshots increased. I hid behind a water tank nearby and from my location I saw CRP soldiers nearby shooting but this time directly at protesters. When I was running a bit far from the shooting, I saw a child being hit and collapse to the ground. 

The child, later identified as 16-year-old Abdalla Hussein Abubakr, died. Human Rights Watch has read his autopsy report, which says his death was caused by a bullet that entered the back of his head.

A 24-year-old protester said that security forces restricted access to medical care for the wounded:

An ambulance tried to get through, but CRP [officials] started shooting again in the air and used teargas at the crowd and in close proximity to the ambulance which then scared the ambulance driver… it took them [medics] around 20 minutes to reach wounded protesters.

Another protester said security forces stopped him from helping a wounded protester:

I saw a protester who had been shot by CRP officials and collapsed on the ground, he was bleeding. I moved with other protesters to try and help him. A traffic police officer was near us and asked us to leave the area immediately. At that time, CRP soldiers started shooting around the area where we were at, so we withdrew into hiding. The wounded protester was on the ground three or four meters from where the CRP soldiers were stationed. They did not offer any help. After [about] 15 minutes, we managed to reach the protester and put him in a car. He was shot in his head, but he was still breathing. He later died in the hospital.

Violence at Kassala Teaching Hospital

Witnesses said that crowds started to gather at the hospital around noon, either accompanying wounded protesters or responding to calls on social media to donate blood. A witness said that after approximately 40 to 50 minutes, CRP officers at a distance started to fire teargas at the crowds. A witness said some of the canisters landed inside the hospital affecting doctors treating injured persons. A doctor working in the emergency room said: “We started smelling the ]tear[ gas. It was a mess, and the other doctors, medical volunteers and patients, started to find something to cover our noses and faces. It affected our ability to work and treat the wounded.”

A 37-year-old activist said he saw people begin to erect roadblocks on the approach to the hospital. At round 1 p.m. three witnesses said, three RSF military vehicles approached the roadblocks. A local journalist who had been interviewing wounded protesters said that he attempted to defuse escalating tensions between protesters and the RSF officers, who instructed protesters to move away and remove the roadblocks:

I approached an RSF officer and recognized his rank to be a major. I identified myself to him as a journalist and told him that it is better if they leave the area to avoid further escalation. The officer said they were carrying a body of a dead RSF soldier and wanted to be allowed to access the hospital. I suggested that he take the body to the military hospital. He asked me to tell the protesters not to throw stones at them. He then said they were leaving. The vehicle started to reverse. I moved few steps and turned to address the protesters. Before I opened my mouth, the RSF started shooting.

A witness said: “I saw three people get shot. I saw an old man shot in the back and fall to the ground.” Another witness added:

The old man was asking protesters not to throw stones at the RSF as they were leaving. He had his back to the RSF and was talking to the protesters. The next thing, shots were fired. I saw him on the ground. Some of the protesters joined me to reach his body to move it inside the hospital. He was already dead.

A forensic report indicates that the man, 60-year-old Ali Ismael Osman Mohamed, had injuries to the upper left part of the chest. 

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The location where the RSF opened fire on protesters outside the hospital.
© Anonymous

Human Rights Watch obtained and verified four videos from this incident. Two show the three RSF vehicles near the hospital with protesters gathering near the vehicles. The videos, filmed from different angles a few meters apart, show a crowd of protesters shouting at the RSF, the RSF vehicles reversing, and then suddenly gunshot sounds. Three military pick-up trucks, each with a heavy machine gun mounted on the back can be seen reversing down the street outside the hospital. The last pick-up truck in this convoy stops to allow four military personnel to get into the vehicle, each carrying a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle.

During this time, protesters can be seen approaching the vehicle. The truck then reverses and turns around outside the hospital. On the final turn, the truck can be seen and heard speeding off to the north, away from the protesters. As it does, a number of shots can be heard that are consistent with the sound of a heavy machine gun, followed by bursts from a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle. The shooting takes place off-camera a as the vehicle speeds off and the videographers run for cover. In one video, following this shooting, a deceased or severely injured person can be seen being carried by protesters in the direction of the hospital.

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Still image from a video obtained by Human Rights Watch shows three military vehicles, identified by witnesses as belonging to the RSF near Kassala Teaching Hospital, on October 15,2020.
© Anonymous

Human Rights Watch obtained multiple video footage showing the RSF vehicles near the hospital with protesters gathering near the vehicles. 

An activist saw 26-year-old Isam Ibrahim, a protester he knew, being shot in the head: “I saw him hit and falling down… I tried to save him with other people around me. He was already dead.” The autopsy report shows that Ibrahim was shot on the left side of his head.

A doctor said that five people were killed outside the hospital, four of them dead on arrival and one who died later from his injuries. The doctor said:

Most of the injuries were in the chest and abdomen. There was also one injury to the head skin, one injury destroyed the jaw, one injury caused by a bullet that penetrated the skull and got stuck there. All were caused by bullets. We also treated a woman who was shot in the leg… She told us she was at her home and a stray bullet went all the way through her house’s wall and penetrate her leg.

A video circulated on social media and reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows the director of Kassala state police addressing protesters on the evening of October 15 saying: “We, all the heads of security and military bodies, were in the operation room. We did not issue any orders to use ammunition… Any bullet shot is the responsibility of the person who shot it.”