Regenerated forests offset 12% of carbon emissions in Brazilian Amazon in 33 years

Secondary forests play an important part in carbon capture because they tend to absorb a larger amount of carbon than they lose to the atmosphere. However, the size and average age of these often abandoned areas where vegetation grows back were unknown until now. In a study recently published in the journal Scientific Data, a group led by two researchers at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) quantified these variables and found that the estimated carbon uptake by secondary forests throughout Brazil offset 12% of the carbon emissions due to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon alone in a 33-year period.

Rebuilding Fairer Economies Demands Global Support

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Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva participates in a panel discussion on post Covid-19 recovery and resilience during the 2020 Annual Meetings at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, October 13, 2020.  
© 2020 IMF Photo/ Cory Hancock

This was a year like no other for the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank Annual Meetings, which took place virtually earlier this month. A crush of panels, briefings, and townhalls painted a searing picture of the havoc the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked on the global economy: Poverty is rising for the first time in decades and inequality is climbing. But even as the virus continues to leave a trail of death and disruption, many governments are ending support for millions now facing hunger or eviction.

Listening to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva offering her now-familiar vision for turning this crisis into an opportunity for building more resilient and equitable economies gave me both hope and despair.

Georgieva repeatedly exhorted governments to continue to support workers, especially in the informal sector, even after the economy slowly begins to recover. Invest in health care, education, and green technology. Modernize tax codes, including closing tax loopholes that benefit the rich, consider a wealth tax, prioritize taxing capital over labor, and consider a carbon tax. Govern transparently and fight corruption.

But hope for this vision is dimmed by the reality of IMF programs, which continue to condition loans on governments achieving fiscal consolidation targets that all but force them to impose austerity measures, which hurt the poor and fuel inequality. What faith can we have that the IMF will insist governments fill budget gaps by taxing the rich when it continues to push value-added taxes – a regressive tax that hits people with low incomes particularly hard?

With many countries still living the painful consequences of the IMF’s mistakes during the 2008 recession, it’s  encouraging to hear Georgieva offer an alternative vision. But hope will turn to despair without global support within the IMF – especially the United States and Europe – to turn rhetoric into reality.

IMF policy and programs are developed through a complicated process and require the approval of an Executive Board whose distribution of power heavily privileges Western countries. Together, the US and European countries are a few points shy of holding half the voting power, while 23 African countries share a single executive director who wields a mere 3 percent share.

If this is truly to be, in Georgieva’s words, a “new Bretton Woods moment,” it will require the commitment of the entire institution, as well as the governments who wield outsize power on its board. 

Russia: Authorities Targeting Free Speech at a University

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Tens of thousands of people rallied in central Moscow Russia, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, for the third consecutive weekend to protest the exclusion of opposition and independent candidates from the Russian capital’s city council ballot.
© 2019 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

(Moscow) – Prosecutors have ordered a university in Moscow to submit detailed information on students and faculty who participated in mass protests and had contacts with foreign groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The order is part of an inspection of the university by a local prosecutor’s office.

The inspection comes a year after mass protests in Moscow attracted thousands of students and other younger people. It seems aimed at intimidating students and faculty, limiting free speech and academic freedom, and falsely portraying critics and protesters as linked to foreign influence.

“Demanding information on politically active students and lecturers appears to be yet another attempt by Russian authorities to stifle activism and academic freedom” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This kind of inspection cannot but send a chilling signal to people in academia who have dissenting views that they could be driven out for political activism.”

On October 16, a trade union of higher education workers published an instruction issued by the rector of the university, the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, directing its officials to gather information required by the prosecutor’s office for the inspection. Attached to the instruction is a letter from the prosecutor’s office, dated October 4, notifying the rector about the inspection, listing the required information, and setting an October 18 deadline for responding.

The local prosecutor’s notification states that inspections of academic institutions’ compliance with Russian law are conducted at the request of the Moscow City Prosecutor Office. The BBC reported that the Academy declined to comment on the instruction and that at least one other university had said that it had not received such a request.

The first part of the inspection notice requests generic information about state accreditation, licenses, and general compliance with the Law on Education and the labor law.

The language in the second part of the notice, and the types of data it requires, make clear that one aim of the inspection is to uncover “destructive” foreign influence on Russia’s younger generation. It singles out the need to report on, among other things, “pro-American groups of influence that can be used by international NGOs trying to achieve their destructive goals,” the “falsification of global and Russian history to achieve the geopolitical interests of ani-Russian forces,” and the “destruction of Russian traditional spiritual and moral values.”

The notification requires the Academy to provide a list of all of its international projects or programs funded from abroad and to explain how they comply with Russian law, joint programs with foreign nongovernmental groups, and any activities within the university by groups deemed “undesirable” in Russia or threatening state security and “the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order.” The latter includes training election observers, monitoring elections, “ideological propaganda” such as promoting “American and European democratic and liberal values,” and meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs by, for example, monitoring government practices, publishing findings, and proposing recommendations for improvements.

For years, Russian authorities have used the pretext of protecting the state from foreign influence to demonize, intimidate, and shut down nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and activists who criticize or seek change in government policies.

The Kremlin’s efforts to marginalize critics crystallized with the 2012 “foreign agents” law, requiring Russian organizations that accept foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” a term that is widely understood in Russia to mean spy or traitor. Challenges from at least 66 groups against this law are pending before the European Court of Human Rights. The 2015 law on “undesirable” foreign organizations” banned the activities of foreign or international NGOs deemed to be undermining state security, national defense, or the constitutional order and set out administrative and criminal penalties for Russian citizens who cooperate with them.

The prosecutor’s office also required the Academy to submit information about students who participate in unauthorized mass protests, about protest organizers, whether protesters were paid, and whether they had previously taken part in international exchange programs. It demanded data on events that develop “civil protest skills,” such as organizing mass public gatherings or legal defense in case of detention during a protest.

In summer 2019, numerous unauthorized but peaceful protests took place in Moscow, triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the city legislature’s elections. The authorities responded with force and harassment through abuse of the legal system, prosecuting dozens of people.

Many students from Moscow universities joined the protests, and some faced administrative and criminal charges. Some universities threatened to expel student protesters. An official with the Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s leading universities, initially supported students’ right to peacefully protest during summer 2019. But in January 2020, the university introduced restrictions on students’ political activism on campus in an effort to distance itself from such activities.

Although the notice states that the inspection is based on Russian laws on education, the purpose is to require universities to monitor the peaceful and lawful activism of faculty and students with dissenting views, which goes beyond the main goals of an educational organization, Human Rights Watch said.

“The prosecutor’s order frames peaceful activism as something that is destructive and that should be monitored and rooted out,” Williamson said. “This is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly and fosters an atmosphere that jeopardizes academic freedom. The authorities should ensure that students and faculty can openly express their opinions without fear of reprisal.”

US: Heat Emergency Plans Missing Pregnancy, Racial Justice

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© RuslanDashinsky/Getty Images

(Washington, DC) – Many plans by local, state, and federal authorities in the United States to respond to heat extremes and climate change miss the threat that extreme heat poses to pregnancy, particularly for low-income and Black and brown people, Human Rights Watch and partners said today. Authorities should promote racial and reproductive justice and address stark racial disparities in health outcomes.

“We reviewed more than 100 heat and climate change adaptation plans or associated documents but found only a couple of references to pregnancy,” said Skye Wheeler, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Pregnant people, and especially Black and brown people, need to be at the table as we tackle the multiple harms to health from increasing heat.”

A Better Balance, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Human Rights Watch, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice-Florida released today a fact sheet, “Increasing Temperatures because of the Climate Change Crisis is a Reproductive Justice Issue in the United States.” Reproductive Justice is a global movement created by Black women’s rights activists in the US. It seeks to ensure the human right to legal and equitable access to comprehensive, high quality reproductive health services, and a healthy and safe environment for all women during pregnancy and while raising children.

Fact Sheet: Increasing Temperatures because of the Climate Change Crisis is a Reproductive Justice Issue in the United States

Fact Sheet: Increasing Temperatures because of the Climate Change Crisis is a Reproductive Justice Issue in the United States

Human Rights Watch reviewed 105 official heat safety web pages, climate action plans, heat plans, heat advisories, disaster plans, and sustainability initiatives for 18 large US cities, including the 15 most populous, with a total of 32 million people. As of August 2020, only two of these documents, from Chicago and Philadelphia, explicitly addressed the danger heat poses during pregnancy. Since the review was conducted, Human Rights Watch has seen that New York City has also included this group in a list of vulnerable populations. Concerns about the dangers of heat for pets were found 37 times.

A Buzzfeed article from August also found that out of 25 US cities, only Chicago and Philadelphia mentioned pregnancy in public heat guidelines.

Heat-related illnesses range from heat rashes and cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is a medical emergency and can be fatal or cause permanent disability. Every year, more people die in the US from heat than from any other weather-related cause, and the number of heat-related deaths is increasing. Heat stress threatens health during pregnancy and fetal health exposure to high temperatures results in higher rates of premature birth as well as other adverse birth outcomes.

Because of systemic racism, Black women and other women of color in the US face dramatically worse pregnancy health and birth outcomes than white women. Some studies suggest that Black pregnant women may be especially vulnerable to the emerging threat of heat. Women of color and low-income women may also face more hours of dangerous heat, because they work in hot conditions – for example about one-fifth of US farmworkers are women – or because they live in parts of cities with less green space and higher average temperatures.

The 2020 summer was hotter than usual, a trend that is expected to continue, although some parts of the US have had bigger heat increases than others in the past decades. Predictions for extreme increases in heat by the end of the century can only be mitigated by rapid action to cut carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Regardless, temperatures are set to rise significantly in much of the US because of increased carbon, already present because of past emissions.

City studies of local dangers of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flooding, or heat waves, and local climate change action plans did often note, correctly, that the impact of climate change varies greatly between individuals and communities. Many said that older people, people with pre-existing conditions such as heart and respiratory disease, as well as athletes and children, are especially vulnerable to illness and death from extreme heat.

Some plans or warnings cited outdoor workers as an at-risk group. There is no federal heat standard protecting US workers from extreme heat, although laws protecting access to cooling or water, shade, and rest in at least some circumstances are in place in California, Minnesota, and Washington states. An incomplete but increasing number of states provide accommodations for pregnant workers such as additional water breaks. In September 2020, the US House of Representatives passed a federal bill, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, that would provide explicit protections nationally, though it remains pending in the Senate.

Some climate change or heat plans reviewed discussed how low-income communities, communities with less access to air conditioning, or communities of color are more likely to be hit harder by heat or other extreme weather. Most did not include recommendations to address racial inequities and racism as part of the response to the climate crisis, although some did. Scholars, climate activists, and public health officials have cited these inequities and said that local plans addressing climate change should be as inclusive as possible.

A 2020 study estimated that there may have been 12,000 heat-related deaths a year during the last decade in the contiguous US and warned that the number could increase to 110,000 a year under high-emission “business-as-usual” scenarios by the year 2100. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not published complete data on heat-related deaths over the last decade; from 1999 to 2010 it recorded around 618 heat-related deaths every year. But because the recorded cause of death is often another health event, such as a heart attack, this is an underestimation.

Many studies show that heat exposure is linked to premature birth and others also link exposure to heat to low birth weight, birth defects, and stillbirth. Several reviews of studies warn that more needs to be done to address these findings, especially given predictions of hotter days and nights as well as acute heat wave periods. Premature birth is a leading cause of infant death and linked to higher rates of lifelong intellectual and physical health problems. Premature birth can also create a heavy financial and emotional toll on families.

The rates of premature births in the US grew for a fifth year in a row in 2019. The CDC says that Black women’s pregnancies end in premature birth 50 percent more often than those of white women. Low birth weight is also twice as common among babies born to Black women, and stillbirth is more than twice as common for Black women as for white women. The March of Dimes, which fights premature birth in the US, provides analysis that shows that Hispanic and Native American women also have worse birth outcomes than white women.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has explicitly called for including pregnancy when “prioritiz(ing) the most vulnerable” to climate change. The US government should increase funding for efforts addressing the impact of climate change on human health. Cities, states, and Native American tribes should also ensure that their programming to prepare for climate impacts on human health includes pregnancy health and addresses reproductive injustice because of racism and poverty.

The US Congress should pass federal heat protection for all workers, for example through passing the Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, and the Senate should pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act so that pregnant workers have an explicit right to accommodations, including to prevent heat-related illnesses during pregnancy. States should ensure that workers have and know about workplace protections for pregnancy already in place, including accommodations.

“The effects of climate change and extreme heat on pregnant people are a matter of racial, gender, and economic justice and cannot be ignored,” said Sarah Brafman, senior policy counsel and director of the DC office at A Better Balance. “One key step our lawmakers need to take is to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure that pregnant people – especially low-income women and women of color who are too often exposed to higher rates of extreme heat – are able to seek accommodations so they don’t have to choose between their paycheck and their health by continuing to work in dangerously hot environments.”

Climate change impacts on health should be included in medical education. Doctors, midwives, and community birth workers can provide information about the importance of hydration and keeping cool during pregnancy. Doctors should ask pregnant patients about their work and exposure to heat and, where appropriate, provide letters to employers to help workers access reasonable workplace accommodations.

Cities and other US jurisdictions should revise their plans and websites before the next heating season to include pregnancy and to address the special needs in communities of color, Human Rights Watch and its partner groups said.

“Black women experience higher rates of premature birth and negative birth outcomes, which affect their and their children’s chances for a healthy life,” said Kelly Davis, Chief Equity Officer at the National Birth Equity Collaborative. “Climate change impacts, including heat, remains a challenge for Black people, along with other marginalized and minority groups, for achieving healthy pregnancies and supportive parenting environments. The movement to combat climate change must include addressing structural racism and gender oppression in service of birth equity.”

For more information on the health impacts of increasing heat and reproductive justice, please see below.

 

No Federal Action Plan on Climate Change, Health Impact
The National Climate Assessment, written by the US Global Change Research Program, a body mandated by the US Congress to summarize current and future impacts of climate change on the US, has, together with many scientists and advocates, warned over the past 20 years of extensive negative health impacts from climate change, including increases in heat-related illness and deaths.

The US has struggled with increasing numbers of extreme weather events over the past decade including heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires and massive flooding that have devastated communities and, between 2007 and 2017 alone, cost the US government $350 billion. Weather-related disasters have cost the US over $46 billion so far in 2020 alone.

Despite this, the US government has no federal plan to address the climate crisis or its detrimental impact on human health. Under the administration of President Donald Trump the United States has reversed course on reducing carbon emissions. Trump canceled his predecessor’s climate action plan and pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But President Barack Obama’s plan was also not ambitious enough in reducing emissions and contained little on the health impact of climate change. Funding for the federal flagship climate change and health program “Building Resilience Against Climate Effects” (BRACE), allows for little more than providing advice and modest grants for a total of 18 tribes and states to address some climate impacts. The program received about $10 million for 2019.

Pregnancy Information in Government Heat Plans
Many cities, counties, and states in the US have begun to independently plan for and take action on climate change. Heat awareness efforts have understandably largely focused on reducing mortality and heat-related illnesses. This approach risks authorities missing the hidden costs of heat such as adverse birth outcomes, increases in violence during periods of hotter weather, mental health impacts, and reductions in productivity and educational achievements.

BRACE and academic experts on the relationship of heat to health have urged authorities to assess how heat affects different populations and to recognize that some are much more vulnerable than others. One guiding document by BRACE provides a strong emphasis and substantial supporting research on the importance of including racial inequities in addressing heat illness and other impacts.

Although information on the added vulnerability to heat illness during pregnancy and the link between heat and adverse birth outcomes have been available for years, only two cities included in the Human Rights Watch analysis included this in their planning or analysis. The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications recommends that during pregnancy people should “avoid extreme heat, stay well hydrated and follow advice of their medical providers.” Philadelphia’s page on heat safety includes pregnant women as a vulnerable population. Since the review was conducted, Human Rights Watch has seen that New York City has also included this group, noting on one webpage: “[p]regnant people are sensitive to heat. An increase in body temperature may bring on labor, preterm birth or lower birth weight. Those who are pregnant should stay in a cool place, drink fluids and take it easy when it’s hot.”

The CDC and the EPA have acknowledged pregnant people as an at-risk population in their “Extreme Heat Guidebook.” The National Climate Assessment 4 (2018) included studies on heat and preterm birth and included pregnant people as an at-risk group. The US Global Change Research Program also noted that climate-related exposures “may lead to adverse pregnancy and newborn health outcomes, including spontaneous abortion, low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy), [and] increased neonatal death.”

State-level climate change planning documents from North Carolina, New York, and Oregon have noted that pregnancy presents additional vulnerability as well as the link to preterm birth and other adverse birth outcomes.

Although the impact of heat on pregnancy health may be acknowledged elsewhere, front-facing heat public education webpages for the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency do not include pregnant people as an at-risk group. Communication efforts should include pregnancy vulnerabilities, including through a reproductive and racial justice lens.

Heat and Pregnancy Health
For hormonal and other reasons, such as their increased size and smaller skin-to-volume ratio, during pregnancy people are less able to regulate their body temperature and are more vulnerable to heat stress. The additional vulnerability to heat has been noted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, a government research and education agency) says:

If your job causes your body temperature to become higher than 39°C (102.2°F), you may suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or dehydration, which are not good for either you or your developing baby. If you are pregnant, you are more likely to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke sooner than a nonpregnant worker. This is because your body must work harder to cool down both your body and your unborn baby. If you are pregnant, you are also more likely to become dehydrated. This also means you won’t be able to cool yourself as well by sweating. … Exposure to excess heat at work could increase your chances of having baby with a birth defect or other reproductive problems.

A 2020 review paper of academic peer-reviewed studies in the US found that “five out of five studies on heat and preterm birth found an effect, and three out of three studies on heat and low birth weight found an effect.” Increased risk of preterm birth because of high temperature exposures “range(d) … from 8.6 percent to 21.0 percent.” Two reports “found an association of racial/ethnic disparity and heat exposure with an increasing risk of preterm birth; higher risk was found among black mothers.” Another study on pregnancy health and heat found that pregnant Black women had more hospitalizations due to heat exposure during their pregnancy than other women.

One 2017 review of 28 peer-reviewed papers on heat and adverse birth outcomes found: “There is evidence that temperature extremes adversely impact birth outcomes, including, but not limited to: changes in length of gestation, birth weight, stillbirth, and neonatal stress in unusually hot temperature exposures.” Findings from another review of 15 studies, also published in 2017, “confirm the crucial importance of the adverse health effects of climate change especially in the perinatal period.”

Heat has other impacts on pregnancy health. Another important effect is that warming temperatures increase the formation of ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory illness in pregnant women and can lead to low birth weight or preterm birth. Forest fires, like those in California in recent years, also worsen air quality and release large amounts of fine particulate matter, PM 2.5, a toxic pollutant in smoke that is linked to poor pregnancy outcomes.

Heat and Inequity
Activists and scholars examining racial and environmental justice in the US are increasingly recognizing the negative health effects of heat exposure, and have noted, in a CDC report for example, that “many pathways that modify vulnerability to extreme heat vary by race and ethnicity.”

A study published in 2020 found that areas formerly subjected to redlining – a racist housing policy banned in 1968 that made Black and other minority neighborhoods less valuable, leading to further marginalization – in 108 urban areas across the US are still mostly – 94 percent – hotter than non-redlined areas, by as much as 7 degrees Celsius. An investigation by the National Public Radio service found a strong correlation between poverty, often in communities of color, and heat in cities.

One study of 234,042 adult deaths during warm periods between 2000 and 2011 in New York City found that “deaths during heat waves were more likely to occur in black individuals than other race/ethnicity.” A study of Portland, Oregon, found “groups with limited adaptive capacity, including those in poverty and non-white populations, are at higher risk for heat exposure” noting that “climate change is catalyst for injustice.”

Air conditioning protects against heat, but is unequally distributed. In one study, for example, prevalence of central air conditioning among Black households was less than half that among white households in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh, and deaths among Black people were more strongly associated with hot temperatures. Energy burdens – the proportion of family income spent on energy bills – are higher for minority groups in the US and when money is tight families may not be able to use air conditioning.

As temperatures increase, heat exposure is also increasingly an issue of concern to labor unions and others working to protect the rights and health of outdoor workers – for example construction workers, farmworkers and airport workers, and people working in hot indoor sites such as some warehouses. The nongovernmental organization Public Citizen estimated that in July 2017, over 1.1 million outdoor workers labored in dangerous heat each working day, including 265,000 agriculture workers. A study in Florida found that pregnant farmworkers found it difficult to access health services that included information about occupational health, including exposure to heat.

While government health agencies advise workers to take “plenty of breaks” in cool or air-conditioned areas, this may not be possible for pregnant farmworkers, and especially women who need to earn money before their baby is born and have no paid parental leave.

A national heat standard, which would protect outdoor workers by mandating water, rest, shade, and other protections, has long been needed. NIOSH issued criteria for a heat standard in 1972 and then updated it in 1986 and 2016.

However, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, which is responsible for work safety and rules and regulations, has never issued a heat standard. It has only the vague and hard-to-enforce general duty clause (of the Occupational Safety and Health Act) to punish employers for forcing people to work in health-threatening heat. Pregnancy accommodations, such as to be able to take more frequent water and cooling breaks, should be better protected, as envisaged in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Human Rights Watch and partners said.

Fact Sheet: Increasing Temperatures because of the Climate Change Crisis is a Reproductive Justice Issue in the United States

Fact Sheet: Increasing Temperatures because of the Climate Change Crisis is a Reproductive Justice Issue in the United States

Azerbaijan: Cluster Munitions Used in Nagorno-Karabakh

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A shop containing toilets, tiles and other housewares burns in Stepanakert on the night of October 3, 2020 after the city is shelled. 
© 2020 Union of Informed Citizens.

Azerbaijan has repeatedly used widely banned cluster munitions in residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch said today. During an on-site investigation in Nagorno-Karabakh in October 2020, Human Rights Watch documented four incidents in which Azerbaijan used cluster munitions.

Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the de-facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh dramatically escalated on September 27, 2020. Two humanitarian ceasefires brokered by members of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe have failed to halt the fighting. According to authorities from all parties, scores of civilians have been killed or injured in attacks in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan.

“The continued use of cluster munitions – particularly in populated areas – shows flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Stephen Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “Cluster munitions should never be used by anyone under any circumstances, much less in cities, due to the foreseeable and unacceptable harm to civilians.”

In the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Human Rights Watch is investigating whether all sides of the conflict adhere to international humanitarian law, which requires armed forces to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objects and civilian objects, at all times. As such, indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, including attacks which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific legitimate military target. Human Rights Watch has made repeated requests to the Azerbaijani government for access to conduct on-site investigations, but access has not yet been granted.

Human Rights Watch examined remnants of the rockets, impacts, and remnants of submunitions that exploded, as well as dud submunitions that failed to function at several locations in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s administrative center, which is called Khankendi in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch also examined photographs taken in the town of Hadrut of a rocket, impacts, and remnants of submunitions that exploded, and a dud submunition that failed to explode. Human Rights Watch also spoke to six people who witnessed the attacks. Azerbaijani officials have accused the Armenian side of using cluster munitions in this conflict, but Human Rights Watch has not independently verified those claims.

Residents of Stepanakert told Human Rights Watch that attacks using cluster munitions began on the morning of September 27 in a residential area no more than 200 meters from the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  

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© 2020 Planet Labs

A 69-year-old woman who was in her apartment on the fourth floor of a building next to where Human Rights Watch observed scores of the distinctive impacts of the M095 submunitions said the building began to shake around 7:15 a.m.: “The children started to scream and everyone was panicking when the bombs started coming down. We opened the windows and saw that the cars were burning. We saw that they had small pink things that were making them burn, so we ran down to the basement.”

She said that a number of submunitions did not explode and that people in the neighborhood covered them with sand from the children’s playground until emergency responders came the next day to secure and remove them. She said glass broken from the blasts injured a number of people in the neighborhood. Another resident told Human Rights Watch that dozens of vehicles were damaged.

On October 12, Human Rights Watch visited the site and, in addition to the distinctive impacts of the submunitions, Human Rights Watch observed several damaged and burned vehicles and numerous broken windows in nearby apartments and a shop located in the courtyard. However, the exact damage to the area done by the submunitions is unknown because another subsequent attack was carried out with a different munition in roughly the same location.

At least one more LAR-160 cluster munition rocket was fired roughly into the same area several hundred meters away. Human Rights Watch observed the remnants of a LAR-160 rocket, scores of the distinctive impacts of the M095 submunitions, the remnants of the pink-colored stabilization ribbons, and submunition fragments. Numerous buildings, private business, and markets had varying degrees of damage from the attack.

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The distinctive, ring-shaped, pre-formed fragments of an Israeli-made M095 submunition near a shop in Stepanakert. 
© 2020 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch spoke to one worker for a nongovernmental group who observed a fire in a shop following an attack in this second neighborhood when he visited the site at approximately 11:20 p.m. on October 3. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a photograph taken by this witness that, according to the photograph’s metadata, was captured on October 3 at 11:20 p.m. 

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Body of a LAR-160 series Israeli-made rocket in a residential neighborhood in Stepanakert.
© 2020 Human Rights Watch

A video uploaded on the Telegram channel “Re:public of Artsakh” on October 4, captured another cluster munition rocket attack on Hakob Hakobyan Street in Stepanakert. Human Rights Watch spoke to two people who live on Hakob Hakobyan Street and witnessed the attack. One 55-year-old resident said that she was in her fourth-floor apartment during the attack. She said that some of the explosions occurred on the roof and ruptured the water pipes on the top of the building, causing water to run down from the upper floors. As a consequence, the water was shut off to the building.

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The distinctive pattern of a M095 dual-purpose submunition impact on the ground along with its pink-colored ribbon in Stepanakert near Karabakh Telecom’s main building. 
© 2020 Human Rights Watch.

Rescue services were able to clear the submunitions from the top of the building after several days and access to water was restored but there has been no electricity in the building since the attack. An individual familiar with the electrical grid told Human Rights Watch that they were working to restore electricity in the area but could only provide electricity to basements and shelters for the time being.

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Damage to a private vehicle near Karabakh Telecom from an Israeli-made dual-purpose M095 submunition that produces a jet of molten metal intended to destroy vehicles and materiel. 
© 2020 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch was not able to identify any military equipment or bases in the three neighborhoods where the attacks took place. Even if there had been, given the indiscriminate effects of cluster munitions, their use in a residential civilian setting is not permitted under the laws of war.

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Workers attempt to repair damaged electrical lines in Stepanakert near the Karabakh Telecom building which is surrounding by residential buildings. 
© 2020 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch also examined 35 photographs and one video shared directly with Human Rights Watch from the town of Hadrut of a LAR-160 rocket and its fuse, impacts, and remnants of M095 submunitions that exploded, and dud submunitions that failed to explode in and around a home. According to the metadata of the media, they were recorded on October 3. Human Rights Watch verified the location of the video and photographs as taken in the town of Hadrut. On October 4, a video was uploaded on YouTube by the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that showed the same house and remnants.

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Remnant of an Israeli-made LAR-160 series rocket that struck a house in a residential area in the town of Hadrut.  
© 2020 Union of Informed Citizens

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A M136 R fuze associated with the Israeli-made LAR-160 series rocket found in a residential area in the town of Hadrut. 
© 2020 Union of Informed Citizens.

Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effect and long-lasting danger to civilians. Cluster munitions typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of small bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Cluster submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines.

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Two unexploded Israeli-made M095 submunitions, one of which is armed, in a residential area in the town of Hadrut following an attack on the city. 
© 2020 Union of Informed Citizens

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions comprehensively prohibits cluster munitions and requires their clearance as well as assistance to victims. Armenia and Azerbaijan are not among the treaty’s 110 states parties. Both say that they cannot accede to the treaty until the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved. Both should take the necessary steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions without delay, Human Rights Watch said.

Regardless of specific treaty obligations, all parties to the conflict are bound by the Geneva Conventions and customary international law and must abide by the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, which requires armed forces to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objects and civilian objects, at all times. It is also forbidden to carry out indiscriminate attacks or attacks that cause excessive civilian damage to the anticipated concrete military advantage.

“The repeated use of cluster munitions by Azerbaijan should cease immediately as their continued use serves to heighten the danger for civilians for years to come,” Goose said.

Additional information about cluster munitions attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh

Human Rights Watch identified the remnants of Israeli-produced LAR-160 series cluster munition rockets and unexploded M095 dual-purpose submunitions in Stepanakert and Hadrut. Each rocket carries 104 submunitions and each submunition is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism. Azerbaijan received these surface-to-surface rockets and launchers from Israel in 2008–2009. Neither Armenia, nor Nagorno-Karabakh de-facto authorities, are known to stockpile cluster munitions but they possess multi-barrel rocket launchers capable of delivering these weapons.

Human Rights Watch identified the Israeli-produced M095 dual-purpose submunition in each location. When this submunition detonates on impact, it produces lethal pre-formed metal fragments and a jet of molten metal intended to destroy vehicles and materiel. Human Rights Watch observed hundreds of the distinctive impacts of M095 submunitions as well as remnants of the pink-colored nylon stabilization ribbons in three neighborhoods in Stepanakert.

On October 13, Human Rights Watch visited the site where the witness saw and photographed the burning shop at 11:20 p.m. on October 3 and observed the same scorched building visible in the photograph and at least three pink stabilization ribbons a few meters away from the building as well as numerous distinctive impacts consistent with M095 submunitions. Human Rights Watch found remnants of a LAR-160 rocket 10 meters from the building and observed impacts to the roof of the building that were consistent with kinetic damage. According to available satellite imagery, the attack took place between September 27 and October 8. On October 8, the imagery shows damage to the building that is consistent with fire.

In the attack on Hakob Hakobyan Street, the distinctive auditory signature of at least three separate rockets dispersing payloads of submunitions, and their subsequent detonations can be heard in the video of the attack, believed to have been filmed by a vehicle’s dashcam. On October 12, Human Rights Watch visited the site where the video was taken and counted over 100 individual impacts on the same street. Human Rights Watch also observed scores of submunition impacts on immediately adjacent streets and on rooftops of office and residential buildings on several adjacent streets within a 100-meter radius. In a separate visit on October 13, Human Rights Watch found the remnants of a LAR-160 series rocket less than 100 meters from the location the video of the attack was taken. Human Rights Watch observed damage to power lines, children’s playgrounds, vehicles, businesses, homes, the main post office, and the Karabakh Telecom building.

 

Foreigners Living with HIV in Jordan Face an Impossible Choice

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Silhouettes are cast on a Jordanian national flag in Amman, Jordan, November 30, 2016. 
© 2020 AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon

In Jordan, medical professionals and health facilities are mandated to report an individual’s HIV status to the government. Foreign nationals found to be HIV-positive are summarily deported regardless of the consequences to their health and safety and banned for life from returning.

Earlier this year, an Iraqi gay man living with HIV fled to Jordan to escape persecution he faced at home for being gay, yet he could not access HIV treatment without being immediately deported. When his health rapidly deteriorated, he could not seek medical attention for fear of being deported. Whatever decision he made would threaten his life. 

Jordan also obliges nationals to undergo HIV testing when seeking employment in the public sector and for non-nationals obtaining work permits, and denies them jobs if they are HIV-positive. It also requires testing for non-nationals renewing residency permits. For LGBT people living with HIV, the stigma and discrimination by medical professionals and employers often bars them from accessing basic rights, without any legal recourse.

Abdallah Hanatleh, executive director of “Sawaed,” an Amman-based organization that facilitates access to HIV treatment, told Human Rights Watch that his organization documents dozens of deportations based on HIV status annually.

Jordan is not alone in this abusive practice. Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also deport people found to be HIV-positive without any provision for continuity of care. Worse yet, in Jordan, as in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, HIV-positive foreign nationals in the criminal justice system are denied adequate access to treatment in prison. “They are placed in solitary confinement, further isolating and stigmatizing them,” Hanatleh said.

International law prohibits deportations based solely on HIV status. Jordan should explicitly ban discrimination based on HIV status and stop deporting HIV-positive individuals under the principle of non-refoulement. This principle applies to asylum seekers and refugees, and for people with HIV, it means that governments are prohibited from returning them — depending on how advanced the disease — to places where they do not have adequate access to medical care and social support, or where they risk being subjected to persecution or degrading treatment on account of their HIV status.

Jordan should not mandate reporting of HIV status and employers should not be requiring HIV testing in the first place. People living with HIV should never be forced to forego lifesaving treatment in order to avoid deportation to danger.

Turkey: 2nd Politically Motivated Trial for Rights Defender

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Osman Kavala
© 2017 Private

(Istanbul) – A new bogus indictment against human rights defender and businessman, Osman Kavala, and US academic, Henri Barkey, for allegedly spying and attempting to overthrow Turkey’s constitutional order is politically motivated and bereft of legal credibility, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said today. The indictment, alleging the two were involved in the July 15, 2016, attempted military coup, demonstrates Turkey’s blatant refusal to abide by a European Court of Human Rights judgment, finalized in May 2020, which ordered Kavala’s release, and not only prolongs ongoing violations of his rights but gives rise to new ones.

An Istanbul court on October 8 accepted the indictment and has scheduled a first trial hearing against Kavala, who was been in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison since November 2017, and Barkey, who lives in the US, for December 18.

“The new case against Osman Kavala and Henri Barkey demonstrates the Turkish authorities’ flagrant misuse of the courts for political ends and their fundamental disregard for the basic principles of criminal justice,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Defying the European Court of Human Rights order to release Kavala has confirmed the Court’s conclusion that Turkey is using detention and prosecution to silence a human rights defender.”

The 64-page prosecutor’s indictment, dated September 28, accuses Kavala and Barkey of “securing for purposes of political or military espionage information that should be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security or domestic or foreign policy interests of the state” (under Turkish Penal Code article 328), punishable with up to 20 years in prison, and “attempting through force and violence to overthrow the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey or introduce a different order or prevent this order” (article 309), punishable with life in prison without parole.

The indictment recycles unsubstantiated accusations, which previously circulated in the pro-government Turkish media, that Kavala and Barkey were involved in espionage and in the 2016 attempted military coup. The indictment provides no credible evidence linking them with any criminal activities. (Further details about the content of the indictment are provided below.)

In a December 2019 judgment, which became final on May 11, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the evidence on which Kavala was detained for the Gezi protests and the 2016 coup attempt was insufficient and agreed that Kavala’s detention and the charges against him “pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him as a human rights defender.” On September 3, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, acting in its supervisory capacity for the implementation of European Court judgments, issued a decision ordering the Turkish government to ensure Kavala’s release, pointing to “a strong presumption that his current detention is a continuation of the violations found by the Court.”

On September 29, pro-government media reported that the Istanbul prosecutor’s office had prepared the new indictment against Kavala and Barkey. On the same day, Turkey’s Constitutional Court postponed its review of Kavala’s application regarding the legality of his continuing detention, which had been scheduled for that day.

On October 1, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers issued a second decision calling on Turkey to ensure Kavala’s immediate release, expressing “deep concern that the applicant has still not been released” and announcing that an interim resolution would be issued at the Committee of Ministers’ December 1-3 session if Kavala had not yet been released.

“Turkey is bound by the ruling from European Court to free Kavala immediately, and the ruling covers his detention under the latest case against him,” said Roisin Pillay, director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme. “The new indictment presents no new grounds to justify his detention, and it is imperative that Turkey ends the persecution campaign against him by releasing him and dropping all charges.”

Indictment against Osman Kavala and Henri Barkey

A repetitive and rambling document, the indictment makes a series of wild assertions about the defendants and offers opinions on their activities but presents no evidence on which to ground a criminal prosecution. The indictment is devoid of details of any information the two obtained that could have constituted spying, as well as where, when, and for what purpose they obtained it, and how they were involved in the coup attempt. The prosecutor cites witness statements, police reports, data from cell phone base receiver stations, wiretap records, travel records, and open-source data as evidence but in fact the information purportedly provided by these sources carries no probative weight as evidence of the alleged offenses.

For example, the prosecutor provides no evidence that Kavala and Barkey ever met directly beyond an encounter in a restaurant on July 18, 2016, which both say was a brief exchange of greetings since each was having dinner separately with different people. In the absence of any evidence of meetings, the prosecutor relies on cell phone signal records from the same base receiver stations that indicate on twelve different dates over three years that Kavala and Barkey were present, along with thousands of other people, in central Istanbul locations at the same time. The implausible explanation of why there is no actual evidence of meetings or direct communication is that “Henri Jak Barkey knew about and implemented intelligence tactics and methods and they were especially careful on this matter.”   

The prosecutor lists details of travel by the defendants and other people mentioned at different times to different places but presents no evidence that they knew about each other’s movements or that their travel demonstrates that they acted in coordination for a criminal purpose. The prosecutor repeatedly asserts that such information is significant without demonstrating what its significance might be and how it could be relevant to an investigation into espionage or the July 15 coup attempt.

Throughout the entire indictment, the prosecutor fails to provide any causal relation between the information provided and the crimes with which Kavala and Barkey are charged. Long sections of the text describing the Gezi protests and a chronology of incidents that occurred before and during the July 15 coup attempt in which neither defendant is mentioned, fail to demonstrate the relevance of this information to the case against the two but do corroborate that the Turkish authorities are pursuing a second bogus prosecution on the same evidence that was deemed irrelevant and insufficient to establish reasonable grounds for the earlier prosecution.

Most of the information about Kavala focuses on his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests, substantially repeating assertions and details of his meetings that constituted the evidence during his first trial and on which Istanbul Assize Court no. 30 acquitted him. An appeal by the prosecutor against that acquittal is underway. In the new indictment, the prosecutor disregards the fact that the same material formed the basis of the earlier trial and asserts that Kavala’s alleged involvement in the Gezi protests demonstrates his further involvement in the 2016 coup attempt. The prosecutor fails to present any information about Kavala’s activities that are relevant to the coup attempt and concludes that Kavala was Barkey’s “[right] arm and local collaborator.”

The prosecutor’s indictment also focuses on a civic group, Anadolu Kültür A.S., which Kavala founded and runs, describing its activities as “divisive” and discriminatory for focusing on minority groups in Turkey. The prosecutor’s assertions about Anadolu Kültür lack any obvious relevance to either the espionage or coup charges Kavala faces. It is unclear why the indictment includes commentary about the organization’s activities, which predominantly relate to arts as a means of dialogue across the political spectrum.

The main accusation against Barkey in the indictment is that he organized a conference about Iran in a hotel on Istanbul’s Büyükada island at the time of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt as cover for his involvement in the coup. The prosecutor also focuses on Barkey’s regular travel to Turkey over years, including in the year of the Gezi Park protests, to suggest that he was engaged in nefarious activities. Presenting no detail of these activities or of the alleged espionage and coup plotting, the prosecutor admits the lack of evidence with the conclusion that “certainly because intelligence organizations’ activities are conducted secretly it must be taken into consideration that it has not been possible to establish all the suspect’s espionage activities against Turkey” (p. 40). 

Undaunted by the lack the evidence of espionage, the prosecutor focuses on the Iran conference, those invited, and how they followed news of the coup from their Büyükada hotel. The prosecutor attributes particular significance to the alleged discovery at the hotel of a small souvenir bell bearing the word “Pennsylvania” – Pennsylvania is the home of the US historic symbol of freedom, the Liberty Bell. A photograph of the said bell is included twice in the indictment, with the prosecutor making a wholly unfounded conclusion that Barkey left it there and that “It is clear that it was, in essence, giving a message relating to the coup attempt,” because it carried the word Pennsylvania, the US state where the Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt, is a resident. There is no explanation of what that message was, to whom it was directed, and for what purpose.

The indictment also offers opinions about state security and espionage and claims that the intelligence services use international nongovernment organizations, without presenting specific facts that make such assertions relevant to a criminal case against Kavala and Barkey. Such statements seem to be included simply to support a thesis that the defendants’ connections with foreigners demonstrate their guilt in the absence of specific facts that might prove actual criminal activity.

On October 16, Turkey’s Official Gazette published a presidential decree announcing that Hasan Yılmaz, the Istanbul deputy chief prosecutor whose name appears as the author of the indictment against Kavala and Barkey, had been promoted to deputy justice minister. As deputy justice minister, Yılmaz also became an ex officio member of the 13-person Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the body responsible for administering the appointment and disciplinary matters of judges and prosecutors. Yılmaz’s promotion to high office days after lending his name to the latest indictment of Kavala, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has targeted in at least three public speeches, not only sends a strong message that Turkey’s presidency supports the indictment, but gives credibility to concerns, shared by Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, that it was prepared under the instruction of Turkey’s presidency with Yılmaz rewarded for complying with executive orders.

East Africa: Human Rights Watch Film Festival

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Screen grab from the film “Imported for my Body.”
© BBC 2019

(Nairobi) – The Nairobi edition of the Human Rights Watch film festival celebrates its 9th season this year with its first digital expansion to audiences in seven countries in eastern Africa, showing free films November 9-13, 2020. The films and panel discussions will be accessible online to audiences in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic and uprisings this year against police brutality and the systemic abuses of minorities, activists in the East Africa regions are pushing back against abusive government responses to the pandemic, and the use of security forces to crack down on critics. The festival aims to continue conversations about movements against repression and exclusion and demands to governments to be treated with dignity.

This year, the festival is co-presented with Filmaid.

“As we document human rights violations in the region, we are working with activists in Africa who are building support and leading change even during this pandemic,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These documentaries follow people who are inspiring communities to resist repression and stand up for their rights. We are excited to expand the festival to audiences around East Africa.”

The lineup of the festival follows.

On the President’s Orders, James Jones and Olivier Sarbil
No Box for Me: An Intersex Story, Floriane Devigne
Maxima, Claudia Sparrow
Imported for My Body, Nyasha Kadandara and Pete Murimi
Gather, Sanjay Rawal, co-presented with FILMAID

Tickets to the film festival are limited. The online panel discussions following each film will feature Human Rights Watch experts, filmmakers, and activists, who will be live-captioned in English.

To secure a free ticket for this film festival and to register for the online discussions, please visit:
https://www.hrwfilmfestivalstream.org

For additional details about the films, please see below.

Opening Night: 

Live Q&A November 9, 8:30 p.m. EAT 
On the President’s Orders: by James Jones and Olivier Sarbil, 2019, 72m 
In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte announced a “war on drugs” in the Philippines, setting off a wave of violence and murder targeting thousands of suspected drug dealers and users. With unprecedented, intimate access both to police officials implicated in the killings and the families destroyed as the result of Duterte’s deadly campaign, On the President’s Orders is a shocking and revelatory investigation into the extrajudicial murders that continue to this day.
Fully subtitled in English.
Register for the Q&A here: https://bit.ly/3jnk3Fp
African digital festival premiere

Live Q&A November 10, 8:30 p.m. EAT 
No Box for Me. An Intersex Story by Floriane Devigne, 2018, 58m
Deborah, 25, and M, 27, are living in bodies that Western medicine – and often society – deems taboo to discuss publicly. Like an estimated 1.7 percent of people, they were born with variations in their sex characteristics that were different from classical understandings of male or female. This beautifully crafted, poetic documentary joins brave young people as they seek to reappropriate their bodies and explore their identities, revealing both the limits of binary visions of sex and gender, and the irreversible physical and psychological impact of nonconsensual surgery on intersex infants.
Fully subtitled in English.
Register for the Q&A here: https://bit.ly/2Hp4gsq
African digital festival premiere 

Live Q&A November 11, 8:30 p.m. EAT 
Maxima: by Claudia Sparrow, 2019, 88m
Maxima tells the story of the 2016 environmental Goldman Prize winner Máxima Acuña and her family, who own a small, remote plot in the Peruvian Highlands and rely solely on the environment for their livelihood. But their land sits directly in the path of a multi-billion-dollar project run by one of the world’s largest gold-mining corporations. Faced with intimidation, violence, and criminal prosecution, Máxima wages a tireless fight for justice. Máxima sings of her love of the land in the face of widespread oppression of Indigenous people, and relentless attempts to destroy environmental resources that the world relies on.
Partially subtitled in English.
Register for the Q&A here: https://bit.ly/34nracK
African digital festival premiere 

Live Q&A November 12, 8:30 p.m. EAT 
Imported for My Body: by Nyasha Kadandara and Peter Murimi, 2019, 52m 

Imported for My Body is an investigation featuring Grace, a Kenyan woman who is one of many women trafficked to India from East and West Africa as part of a large sex-trafficking network. After responding to an advert for dancers abroad, Grace arrives in New Delhi, where her passport is confiscated, and she must pay a grossly inflated fee for her travel. She is then forced to earn her freedom by doing sex work. Grace goes undercover, wearing secret cameras to capture unprecedented footage exposing an underground ring entrapping women. 
Partially subtitled in English.
Register for the Q&A here: https://bit.ly/3jnivLA
Digital festival premiere 

Closing Night:

Live Q&A November 13, 8.30 pm EAT 
Gather: by Sanjay Rawal, 2020, 74m 
Gather celebrates the fruits of the indigenous food sovereignty movement, profiling innovative changemakers in Native American communities across North America reclaiming their identities after centuries of physical and cultural genocide. On the Apache reservation, a chef embarks on an ambitious project to reclaim his community’s ancient ingredients. In South Dakota, a gifted Lakota high school student, raised on a buffalo ranch, is using science to prove her community’s native wisdom about environmental sustainability. Gather beautifully shows how reclaiming and recovering ancient foodways provides a form of resistance and survival, collectively bringing back health and self-determination to their people.
Register for the Q&A here: https://bit.ly/3knTmBA
African digital festival premiere 
Co-presented with FILMAID

China’s “Untenable Operating Environment” for Business in Xinjiang

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People work amidst massive piles of cotton in China’s Xinjiang province. 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an independent organization that promotes sustainably grown and responsibly harvested cotton, announced last week it would cease all its activities in Xinjiang, the region of northwest China where millions of Turkic Muslims are subjected to serious human rights violations, including significant risk of forced labor. 

BCI has concluded that Xinjiang is “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” This is similar to decisions made recently by other independent auditing firms and major brands.  In September, apparel giant H&M cut ties to an indirect supplier in Xinjiang out of concerns about “forced labour and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities.”   Days later, five firms that had been hired by companies to assess the integrity of their Xinjiang supply chains —Sumerra LLC, Bureau Veritas SA, TÜV SÜD, RINA SpA, and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production—said they would no longer provide that service in that region. 

Last March, BCI suspended parts of its work, including ending licensing of farmers and its relationship with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a military-economic entity unique to the region’s repressive governance. 

Companies should be checking their supply chains for human rights abuses and taking steps to prevent or address them, in keeping with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. But this has become increasingly difficult for companies operating in Xinjiang.  Chinese authorities there are notorious for blocking independent investigators. Companies point to their positive influence creating jobs, and broadly assert that audits do not turn up strong evidence of forced labor despite growing indicators of its widespread use. 

But the ground may be shifting as auditors have started refusing the jobs, major brands started cutting ties for fear of reputational harm, and legislators in several countries are considering new laws to limit imports that may have been made with forced labor.

Apparel companies could take the step of joining a global coalition to end forced labor.  International firms with a presence in the region should urge Chinese authorities to not only permit independent auditors, but also give unfettered access to United Nations human rights inspectors, for which international momentum is growing. Auditors and companies should hear directly and freely from Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang about forced labor and other rights abuses and that a “tenable” operating environment exists before considering a return.  

 

 

Seabird response to abrupt climate change 5,000 years ago transformed Falklands ecosystems: study

The Falkland Islands are a South Atlantic refuge for some of the world’s most important seabird species, including five species of penguins, Great Shearwaters, and White-chinned Petrels. In recent years, their breeding grounds in the coastal tussac (Poa flabellata) grasslands have come under increasing pressure from sheep grazing and erosion. And unlike other regions of the globe, there has been no long-term monitoring of the responses of these burrowing and ground nesting seabirds to climate change.

Iran: Prisoners Who Reported Abuse Charged

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A campaign poster showing environmental activists, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh. 

© 2018 #anyhopefornature Campaign

(Beirut) – Iranian judiciary authorities are prosecuting human rights defenders for reporting abuse in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Since September 2020, the authorities have brought charges against two imprisoned activists who had published letters alleging mistreatment.

On October 18, Emtedad online news channel reported that in the previous week, authorities had charged Niloufar Bayani, an environmental conservationist serving a 10-year sentence after an unfair trial, with “publishing false information.” In a separate case, the Human Rights Activists Agency (HRANA) reported that on October 11, the authorities charged an imprisoned student activist, Parisa Rafiee, with “propaganda against the state” after she published a letter about her detention conditions.

“Punishing people reporting mistreatment in Iranian detention facilities shows a warped sense of justice,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary’s recent rhetoric on ‘transparency’ rings especially hollow if prosecutors silence alleged torture victims rather than impartially investigating their claims.”

In February, the BBC Persian website published a detailed account of the alleged mistreatment of Bayani by prison authorities based on her letters, including “1,200 hours of interrogations,” “long hours of interrogation while standing,” “threatening with a hallucinogenic injection,” and “sexual insults.”

On February 24, Iran’s presidential cabinet tasked Alireza Avayi, the justice minister, to investigate the allegations of torture and report back. More than nine months later, there has been no information about such an investigation.

In January 2018, the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arrested Bayani and seven of her colleagues, all members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a local conservation nonprofit group, on accusations of “using environmental projects as a cover for espionage.” On February 10, 2018, family members of Kavous Seyed Emami, one of those arrested, reported that he had died in detention under suspicious circumstances.

The environmentalists’ trial began in January 2019 but was halted multiple times. The defendants were not allowed to have access to a lawyer of their choice. Bayani had interrupted a trial session in February, saying that the defendants had been under psychological torture and were coerced into making false confessions.

On February 18, 2020, Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, confirmed at a news conference that a court of appeal had upheld sentences ranging from 6 to 10 years against seven of the group’s members for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” Esmaili said the court also upheld a 4-year sentence for Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, another member of the group, for “assembly and collusion to act against national security.” Authorities released Kouhpayeh in March.

The court upheld the 10-year sentences for Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz, two of the seven, and ordered them to return allegedly “illicit income.” The court ordered Bayani to return US$360,000 in “illicit funds;” authorities calculated this amount by multiplying Bayani’s last annual salary from the United Nations Environment Programme, where she worked prior to joining the wildlife group, by the six years she worked at the UN, a source told Human Rights Watch.

Over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. 

HRANA reported that the authorities arrested Rafiee, a student activist at the University of Tehran, on February 25, 2018 and released her on bail after 23 days. On August 26, 2018, Saeed Khalili, Rafiee’s lawyer, told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced her to seven years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “disturbing public order.”

The lawyer said the charges were brought for activities such as participating in peaceful demonstrations on campus after dormitory curfew hours. In November 2019, Rafiee’s sentence was reduced to one year after a clemency order by Ayatollah Khamenei.

In a letter published on May 9, 2019, Rafiee wrote that she had been kept in solitary confinement for 21 days without knowing her location. She also wrote that her interrogator sent her for a virginity test, which she refused. But she said she was not allowed to file a complaint about this degrading treatment.

On June 7, 2020, the authorities arrested and transferred Rafiee to prison to serve her sentence. On August 19, HRANA reported that the prosecutor’s office at Evin prison had opened a new case against Rafiee, charging her with propaganda against the state because of the letter.

On October 15, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raeesi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, published a “document on judicial security” as part of the judiciary’s obligations under the country’s sixth development plan. Among other things, the document emphasizes several key human rights issues, including the prohibition on torture and arbitrary arrests and the right of access to a lawyer. The document also commits the judiciary to publishing final court opinions while respecting privacy rights.

“If the judiciary actually wants to curb ongoing abuse, it can start by quashing abusive charges against human rights defenders who are already unfairly behind bars, investigate their torture allegations, and hold those responsible to account,” Sepehri Far said.