Category Archives: Careers

04Oct/19

The “Moscow Case”: What You Need to Know


In mid-July 2019, peaceful protests began in Moscow, triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the September 8 city legislature elections. Authorities responded with brute force, in many cases violently confronting the peaceful protesters. Seventeen people were arrested on charges of “mass rioting” and/or assaulting police. The mass rioting charges are groundless: video footage of the events leading up to these arrests show police breaking up peaceful marches and assemblies.  

Despite the fact that most of the police assault charges ranged from excessive to groundless, some of the accused have already been sentenced to several years of prison. Even in those cases where protesters may have committed an infraction, the sentences in these instances have been excessive.

Jump to Selected Case SummariesJump to Full List

Video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that many of the accused did not engage in any aggressive behavior. Some threw empty plastic bottles or attempted to stop police officers from beating peaceful protesters. One man pulled a police officer’s arm from a protester and another tried to touch an officer’s visor.

Two men’s behavior was more serious: in one case, a man threw a metal trash can at a police officer, and in another, a man sprayed a chemical substance in the direction of officers. But even in these cases, the evidence doesn’t support the charges and no officers were injured.

By October, of these 17,

  • five were sentenced on assault charges to 2 to 3.5 years in prison.  One of them, Pavel Ustinov, was released from jail on his own recognizance on September 20, following on a vigorous public campaign in his support, and on appeal, on September  30 a court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed the sentence to a one-year suspended sentence;
  • seven were released and their cases closed.  One of these seven was freed following an emergency hospitalization, and another, Alexey Minyailo, was released after seven weeks in pretrial custody;
  • four remained in pre-trial detention or under house arrest. They include Yegor Zhukov, a university student whose charges were changed from mass rioting to “inciting extremism online”;
  •  one, released on his recognizance, is awaiting trial.  

Sustained, public campaigns contributed to the nearly unprecedented releases of Pavel Ustinov and Alexei Miyailo. Famous theater personalities, A-list pop-stars, and other prominent figures, including those who never showed anything but loyalty toward the Kremlin, spoke up in defense  of Pavel Ustinov and called for his release. A group of Russian Orthodox priests were among the many people who campaigned on behalf of Minyailo. Following this, a court dropped the case against him and freed him.

One activist, Konstantin Kotov, received a four-year prison sentence for “repeated” participation in unsanctioned public gatherings. Despite vigorous public campaigning on his behalf, he is still in jail pending appeal. Criminal prosecution for serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Six of the unregistered candidates received repeated administrative charges and temporary arrest sentences for violating regulations on mass gatherings, leaving them at risk of criminal prosecution, similarly to Kotov.

Courts issued warnings to two couples who brought their children to the protests, after the prosecutor’s office sought to have them stripped of their parental rights.  Also, one man received five years’ imprisonment for a provocative tweet suggesting that law enforcement officers’ children could become the target of reprisals.

Criminally prosecuting people merely for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, including “repeated” participation in or organization of public gatherings, violates Russia’s international human rights law obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.

Criminal charges for interfering with police arrests and assaulting police officers are not improper, but the circumstances of many of the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch—limited or no contact with police, negligible harm, and in some instances accounts by police that are exaggerated or possibly untruthful—strongly suggest the purpose of these charges was to discourage the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful protest.

When criminal charges are appropriate, the sanctions sought and imposed should be proportionate to the offense. All the sentences imposed in the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear excessive.

Selected Case Summaries

Danil Beglets

Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Danil Beglets

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Danil Beglets (born 1992) is an entrepreneur. He has a baby and a toddler, and lives in Mytishchi, a small town near Moscow, with his family. Between 6 and 6.30 p.m. on July 27, Beglets pulled a peaceful protester away from a police officer on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, grabbing the officer’s wrist as he did so. Beglets does not deny grabbing the officer’s wrist.  Video footage of the events on Bolshaya Dmitrovka show that the entire interaction lasted about two seconds. According to the prosecution, Beglets’s action “caused physical pain” to the officer. The officer did not sustain any injuries as a result. Beglets pleaded guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer (article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code: “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sought a suspended sentence.  On September 3, 2019, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court sentenced him to two years in a medium-security corrections facility.

Видео задержанного сегодня по 212 гражданина Белец pic.twitter.com/EaGink4qqa

— Илиас Меркури (@imerkouri) 9 August 2019

Kirill Zhukov

Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Kirill Zhukov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Kirill Zhukov (born 1990) is a civic activist and former law enforcement officer from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court convicted him on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”)  and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, at around 4:30 p.m., when police were detaining protesters on Tverskaya Street, Zhukov hit a National Guard officer on the visor of his helmet. The prosecution claimed that Zhukov attempted to deliver a blow to dislodge the helmet, causing the officer physical pain. Zhukov argued he waved his left hand in front of the officer’s visor. Available video footage shows Zhukov reaching out towards the lower part of the officer’s visor, and the officer jerking his head back in response. It is difficult to determine from the video whether Zhukov’s hand made fleeting contact with the visor, but he did not swing his arm at the officer or otherwise appear to attempt to “deliver a blow.” 

Полиция Москвы задержала ещё одного участника митинга 27 июля. 28-летнего Кирилла Жукова проверяют по статье 318 УК РФ. Сейчас он на допросе в СКР.

Его личность установили по этой видеозаписи, – Жуков попытался схватить одного из сотрудников ОМОНа за забрало шлема. pic.twitter.com/6aGDYi8lvX

— baza (@bazabazon) 31 July 2019

Pavel Ustinov

Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Pavel Ustinov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Pavel Ustinov (born 1995) is a young actor who relocated to Moscow from Krasnoyarsk. On September 16 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Ustonov guilty on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 2 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting medium gravity damage to health”) and sentenced him to three and a half years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on August 3, at around 3:30 p.m., Ustinov, supposedly an “active participant” in an unsanctioned protest, resisted arrest and dislocated the left shoulder of a Russian Guard officer. The alleged victim claimed that Ustinov “shouted slogans offensive to the authorities.” He also claimed that when Ustinov attempted to break free from being apprehended, he “felt that there is something wrong with [my] shoulder, that something clicked in my  shoulder.” In court, Ustinov testified that he did not take part in the protest but was standing on the sidewalk on Tverskaya Street, next to the entrance to the Tverksya and Pushkinskaya metro stations, waiting for a friend he was supposed to meet. Video footage from several different sources, including TV Rain, shows Ustinov standing silently, looking at his phone when a group of Russian Guard officers suddenly jumped him, tackled him to the ground, and beat him with batons. On September 19, after a wave of public outrage and interventions by actors, pop stars, academics, and a broad range of professional communities,  the prosecutor’s office requested Ustinov’s release from jail on his own recognizance pending his appeal hearing. On September 30, the Moscow City Court confirmed the guilty verdict against Ustinov but changed the original sentence to a one-year suspended sentence.

Evgeny Kovalenko

Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer (originally charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Anna Artemyeva / Novaya Gazeta

Evgeny Kovalenko

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Evgeny Kovalenko (born 1971) is a railroad station security guard from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years and five months in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, Kovalenko pushed a police officer and threw a metal trash bin at another. Both officers alleged that his actions caused them physical pain. In court, Kovalenko said that at around 6 p.m., on the corner of Rozhdestvenkaya Street and Theater Drive, he saw police officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters, including using batons to hit people already tackled to the ground. While not denying that he pushed one of the officers to prevent him from hitting a protester, Kovalenko did not admit to aiming at and hitting the other officer with the bin. Video footage available shows a man throwing a bin toward an officer. It also shows use of excessive force by police against protesters.

Ivan Podkopaev

Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Ivan Podkopaev

Ivan Podkopaev (born 1993)  lives in Moscow and works in a library as a technician. On September 3 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Podkopaev guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27 at around 2:30 p.m., Podkopaev sprayed pepper spray towards Russian Guard officers on Tversakaya Street. Podkopaev said he did this after he saw police allegedly using a metal police barricade to “squash people, including women and the elderly.” Video footage released to the media by Russian investigative authorities shows police and Russian Guard officers with metal police barricades advancing on the crowd and a man with his face covered up spraying a chemical substance. Podkopaev did not deny the allegations and expressed contrition.

Konstantin Kotov

Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Konstantin Kotov

Sentenced for Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Of all the protest activists who were criminally charged in August, only 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a software engineer from Moscow, was accused not of specific actions at the protests but rather of “repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings” under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The charges against Kotov stemmed from the fact that during a six-month period, he took part in three protests in support of political and rights issues, called in a Facebook post in July for people to join a protest against the exclusion of opposition candidates from the Moscow legislature elections, and took part in an election-related protest in August. The investigation into Kotov’s case was completed and the case was moved to trial in less than a week. Such swiftness is unprecedented compared to the regular timeframe of criminal investigations and trials in Russia. On September 5, the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow sentenced Kotov to four years in a medium-security corrections facility. Before Kotov’s sentencing, only one person in Russia had been convicted and served time serial involvement in unsanctioned protests. Prosecutions for such serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Yegor Zhukov

Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Yegor Zhukov

Under House Arrest Awaiting Trial on Charges of Making Extremist Calls Online

Yegor Zhukov, 21, studies political science at one of Russia’s leading universities, the Higher School of Economics. He is also a political vlogger, with more than 148,000 followers. Zhukov was arrested on August 2 on charges of mass rioting, which stemmed from allegations that during the July 27 unsanctioned protest he supposedly organized a large group of young people into ranks and led them to block police officers on the corner of Tverskaya Street and Kamergersky Lane. Moscow students organized a vigorous campaign for Zhukov’s release, which was also supported by some academics and high-profile journalists. When the authorities asked a court to put Zhukov in pre-trial custody, the investigation presented video footage from the site showing a young man whose face was not discernable organizing protesters. On August 30, Novaya Gazeta, a prominent Russian independent newspaper, published their video footage, in which the man’s face is clearly visible and bears no resemblance to Zhukov. On September 3, authorities dropped the mass-rioting charges against Zhukov, but charged him with making extremist calls online over several videos he recorded and published in his vlog in 2017. The investigation alleged that he “decided to engage an unlimited circle of people in his extremist activities, aimed at destabilizing the social-political situation in the Russian Federation.” Notably, the videos, which expressed Zhukov’s dissatisfaction with the current situation in Russia and its government, included no calls for violent actions. On the same day, a court released him from jail and transferred him to house arrest pending trial on the new charges. An active campaign in his support is ongoing.

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with participation in mass riots More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with Mass Rioting

Alexey Minyailo (born 1985) is a developer of educational games for children in orphanages and a pro-democracy activist who volunteered at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. Starting mid-July, Minyailo was involved in the election-related protest activity—both at street gatherings and on social media. On July 27, he spent the day at Khamovniki District Court in Moscow, where police had delivered Sobol in an apparent attempt to prevent her from taking part in the protest taking place that day. In the evening, Minyailo headed to Trubnaya Square, one of the venues for the unsanctioned protest, but detained him just as he was approaching the site. Minyailo spent two days in custody and was charged with participation in an unsanctioned gathering that interfered with traffic and the movement of pedestrians. On August 1, at around 4 a.m., law enforcement officers searched his house as part of an investigation into alleged mass rioting on July 27 and arrested him on charges of participation in mass rioting. On September 26, following a wave of public support—including support from 182 priests from the Russian Orthodox Church—a judge with the Basmanny District Court ordered his release because the evidence against him did not include any information about “organizing mass disorders accompanied by violence or destruction of property.”

Sergey Fomin

Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Sergey Fomin

Charged with Mass Rioting

Sergey Fomin (born 1983) was a volunteer at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. He took part in several unsanctioned protest gatherings—including one held on July 27—after opposition candidates were excluded from the ballot for city legislature elections. On July 31 at 4 a.m., police in Moscow searched the apartment where he lives with his parents. They then took him to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s chief criminal investigative agency, to interrogate as a witness into alleged mass rioting on July 27. Fomin refused to answer the investigator’s questions and was released pending further investigative activities. He left Moscow for a week. According to Fomin, when he returned to the city on August 8, he found out that as of August 5 he was wanted on charges of participation in mass rioting and that governmental-controlled media was portraying him as an organizer of mass riots. He turned himself in at the Zamoskvorechye District Police Department in Moscow on the same day. The next day, a court ruled to transfer him to a pre-trial detention facility. On September 3, another court ruled to transfer Fomin’s to house arrest.

The tables below provide detailed information on the status, charges, and any court rulings.

Persons Arrested on Charges of Mass-Rioting or Police Assault in Connection with the Moscow Protests

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Evgeny Kovalenko (1971) Sentenced to 3 years and five months in prison on Sept 4th Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer
(originally charged with participation in mass-rioting)
July 29th
Ivan Podkopaev (1993) Pleaded guilty on Aug 26th, sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Kirill Zhukov (1990) Sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 4th Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Danil Beglets (1992) Sentenced to 2 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm  (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 9th
Eduard Malyshevsky In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over breaking a window while inside a police van and allegedly injuring a police officer standing on the outside of the van Sept 2nd
Nikita Chirtsov In pretrial detention after being deported to Russia from Belarus Charged with police assault over pushing a police officer Sept 2nd
Pavel Ustinov (1995) Sentenced to 3.5 years in jail on Sept 16th. On Sept 19th, the prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for his release from jail on his own recognizance pending appeal hearing. On Sept 20th, Ustinov was released. On September 30, the appeals court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed to sentence to a one year suspended sentence. Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) Aug 3rd
Alexey Minyailo (1985) Released, charges dropped on September 26 Charged with participation in mass riots Aug 2nd
Vladislav Barabanov (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 3rd
Sergey Abanichev (1994) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegation on mass-rioting over throwing a single-serving soft drink can at a police officer Aug 3rd
Daniil Konon (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 3rd
Sergey Fomin (1983) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 9th
Dmitry Vasiliev Detained on Aug 9th, but hospitalized on Aug 10th because his health severely deteriorated in detention due to lack of access to insulin. On Aug 11th, the Basmanny District Court returned to the investigation their petition to place Vasiliev in pretrial custody, refusing to conduct a hearing in absentia. On Aug 12th, Vasiliev was released from hospital. So far, the authorities have not gone after him.  It’s not clear whether charges against him have been dropped Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 9th
Valery Kostenok (1999) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd despite confessing Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over throwing two empty plastic bottles at officers Aug 12th
Yegor Zhukov (1998) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) Aug 2nd
Samariddin Radjabov (1998) In pre-trial detention Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle in the direction of an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Aidar Gubaidulin (1993) Held in pre-trial detention until Sept 18th;
on Sept 18th, released from jail under own recognizance pending trial
Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle at an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting, switched on Aug 31st) Aug 9th

Activist Convicted on Charges of Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Konstantin Kotov (1985) Sentenced to 4 years on Sept 5th Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings Aug 12th

Person Convicted on Charges of Incitement of Hatred

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Vladislav Sinitsa Sentenced to 5 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted on charges of incitement to hatred over a tweet about possible online retaliation against children of police officers who worked during the protests on July 27th Aug 4th

Unregistered Candidates Who Served Consecutive and Arbitrary Administrative Arrest Sentences in Retaliation for Their Protest Activity

Name Allegation details Date of arrest
Ilya Yashin Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 40 Tweeting about the Aug 3rd protest Aug 28th
  “Encouraging participation in unsanctioned protests” Aug 18th
  Organizing the July 14th protest Aug 8th
  Organizing the July 14th protest July 30th
  Tweeting about the July 27th protest July 29th
Yulia Galyamina Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 35 Organizing an unsanctioned protest on Aug 3rd Aug 21st
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation Aug 6th
  Organizing an unsanctioned protest on July 27th July 27th
Konstantin Yankauskas Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 26 Calling on people to participate in the Aug 3rd protest on Twitter Aug 14th
  Tweeting about the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters Aug 5th
  Organizing the unsanctioned July 27th protest July 29th
Oleg Stepanov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 23 Participating in a protest Aug 1st
  Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest July 27th
Ivan Zhdanov Left the country right after his release from the first 15 days’ arrest without serving the second sentence   Organizing a protest without submitting a notice Aug 11th
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation July 29th
Dmitry Gudkov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrest: 36 Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest Aug 23rd
  Participating in the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters July 30th

02Oct/19

Canada: Blind Eye to First Nation Water Crisis


Roxanne Moonias, mother to an infant with a chronic illness, demonstrates one of the steps she takes to ensure her baby is not exposed to contaminants in the water. Roxanne lives in Neskantaga First Nation and says that it takes her an hour each time to properly wash and rinse his bottles. 


© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

(Toronto) – The next Canadian government needs to compensate Neskantaga First Nation for the costs associated with evacuating the community after a water infrastructure failure, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also have a mechanism to deal with major infrastructure failures in remote First Nations communities.

On September 12, 2019, the water pump at the community’s water treatment facility failed, leaving some homes completely without running water and others with water that was not safe to use except to flush toilets. The remote community – only accessible by plane or winter roads – declared a state of emergency on September 14 and began evacuation by air of the majority of community members to Thunder Bay, including chronically ill adults and infants. Indigenous Services Canada refused to provide evacuation assistance at the time.

“Facing a potential human rights and health crisis after a water pump failure, the Chief and Council were left to act alone to protect the health and safety of their community,” said Amanda Klasing, water expert at Human Rights Watch. “The government failed to help the people of Neskantaga, and they should not be on the hook for the cost of dealing with this crisis.”

Indigenous Services Canada denied the community evacuation assistance when the pump failed, claiming that it would be a quick repair and there was no immediate health or safety risk. Chief Chris Moonias disputed that finding, saying that providing bottled water in the interim was insufficient to address the community’s health and safety needs.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation said that Indigenous Services Canada officials told Neskantaga that no precedent or policy existed to provide evacuation or other forms of assistance to remote communities affected by a major infrastructure failure. The cost to the community of dealing with the evacuation alone puts it at risk of losing control of its finances.

A pump was flown in from southern Ontario, and water tests conducted on September 18 and 19 were sufficient to lift the do-not-consume warning. Members began returning on September 23.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the impact of serious and prolonged drinking water and sanitation problems for thousands of First Nations people – indigenous peoples in Canada – living on reserves. The findings detailed problems with safe water and sanitation on reserves, including a lack of binding water quality regulations, insufficient funding, faulty or substandard infrastructure, and degraded source waters. The federal government’s own audits over two decades show a pattern of overpromising and underperforming on water and sanitation on reserves.

Human Rights Watch research focused on the unique human rights challenges faced by Neskantaga First Nation, which has operated under a boil-water advisory for nearly 25 years. Situated on the banks of Attawapiskat Lake in Northern Ontario, Neskantaga First Nation is a remote Oji-Cree community of approximately 300 registered members. Its main settlement, previously known as Lansdowne House, was relocated beginning in the 1980s, with the promise of better services, including housing, water, and sanitation.

The community’s water system, funded by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, an agency that has since been divided and renamed, was built in 1991. The system that was designed never met the needs of the community in practice. A “boil water” advisory put in place in 1995 has remained in effect ever since. The community requested a new plant, but it was only years later, in 2017, that the federal government finally secured funding. The intended completion date was 2018, but construction has been beset by delays and, in early 2019, the community fired the contractors. With a new contractor, Neskantaga’s new water treatment facility will not be operational until the end of October or November, according to officials who have spoken with the contractors. Meanwhile, Neskantaga remains dependent on the old system, which includes a machine that refills bottles with water for drinking but is difficult to use.

The community cannot pay for the emergency action from its budget without putting it at risk of default status with Indigenous Services Canada and placement into third-party funding agreement management, and loss of budget control.

“In the absence of policy guidance from Indigenous Services Canada, First Nations leaders should not be punished when they act quickly to avert a potential human rights and public health crisis,” Klasing said. “Such action creates an incentive to sacrifice community health and safety to avoid financial risk.”

Since 2015, Canadian officials have worked to eliminate drinking water advisories in First Nations reserves, lifting 87 long-term advisories through dedicated investments. However, at least 56 drinking water advisories remain in place and the underlying systemic water and wastewater problems facing First Nations in Canada remain, including a lack of regulations to protect drinking water on reserves.

Parliament passed the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (SDWFA), which entered into force in November 2013, and called for regulations. In December 2015, a special Assembly of Chiefs sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution on safe drinking water for First Nations, which declared that the act “was developed without meaningful consultation with First Nations, is contrary to inherent authority of First Nation governments and does not reflect the principles of Customary Laws regarding water.” The resolution called for the repeal of the act. It reiterated the call for repeal in 2017 and called for the federal government to develop in partnership with First Nations the next steps in engaging with the SDWFA.

The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Among other obligations to guarantee the right to water, Canada should ensure a continuous water supply for drinking, personal sanitation, washing clothes, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene. Canada also has an obligation to ensure that First Nations have the resources to design, deliver, and control their water access.

The Canadian government is aware of the condition of water infrastructure on First Nations reserves and should have contingency plans for major infrastructure failure, particularly in remote, fly-in communities. These plans should define roles and responsibilities around decision-making on possible evacuations or other extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of community members.

In the absence of these procedures, the government should recognize the urgent dilemma faced by Neskantaga leaders when faced with a pump failure and potential liability for the resulting harm to health and human rights. Neskantaga should not have to bear the financial brunt for an infrastructure failure, and Indigenous Services Canada should work swiftly to compensate the community for the cost of evacuation, Human Rights Watch said.

“The federal government was unprepared to act to prevent serious harm from a failed water system, but that is no excuse to financially penalize Neskantaga leaders and community members for prioritizing their own health, safety and rights,” Klasing said. 

23Sep/19

Indonesia: Indigenous Peoples Losing Their Forests


Video

Indonesia: Indigenous Peoples Losing Their Forests

The Indonesian government is failing to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples who have lost their traditional forests and livelihoods to oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan and Jambi provinces.

(Jakarta) – The Indonesian government is failing to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples who have lost their traditional forests and livelihoods to oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan and Jambi provinces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Loss of forest occurs on a massive scale and not only harms local indigenous peoples but is also associated with global climate change.

The 89-page report, “‘When We Lost the Forest, We Lost Everything’: Oil Palm Plantations and Rights Violations in Indonesia,” examines how a patchwork of weak laws, exacerbated by poor government oversight, and the failure of oil palm plantation companies to fulfill their human rights responsibilities have adversely affected Indigenous peoples’ rights to their forests, livelihood, food, water, and culture in Bengkayang regency, West Kalimantan, and Sarolangun regency, Jambi. The report, based on interviews with over 100 people and extensive field research, highlights the distinct challenges Indigenous people, particularly women, face as a result.

“Indonesia’s Indigenous communities have suffered significant harm since losing their lush ancestral forests to oil palm plantations,” said Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher on women and land at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Indonesian government has created a system that facilitates the deprivation of Indigenous land rights.”

A complex web of domestic and international companies is involved in growing palm fruit, processing palm fruit into oil, manufacturing ingredients, and finally using these ingredients to produce consumer products sold around the globe – everything from biodiesel blends to frozen pizzas, chocolate and hazelnut spreads, cookies, and margarine, to the manufacturing of numerous lotions and creams, soaps, makeup, candles, and detergent. Given its ubiquity in consumer goods, every person globally has probably consumed palm oil in some form. 

Human Rights Watch focused on the plantation operations of two palm oil companies: PT Ledo Lestari in West Kalimantan and PT Sari Aditya Loka 1, a subsidiary of the Jardine Matheson Group, in Jambi. Both oil palm plantations have had a devastating impact on the rights of two Indigenous peoples: the Ibans, a subgroup of the Dayak peoples indigenous to Borneo (Kalimantan), and the Orang Rimba, a semi-nomadic, forest-dependent Indigenous people in central Sumatra.

The impact of oil palm production can be seen across Indonesia, including in restive Papua province, Human Rights Watch said. Conflicts related to land are pervasive and have frequently been linked to oil palm plantations. Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (Consortium for Agrarian Reform), an Indonesian nongovernmental organization, documented more than 650 land-related conflicts affecting over 650,000 households in 2017, and about 410 conflicts affecting 87,568 households in 2018.

Various Indonesian laws, starting from 1999, require companies seeking to develop oil palm plantations to consult local communities at every stage of the process to obtain government permits. Companies have responsibilities under international law to have ongoing consultations with communities.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence that these oil palm plantation companies adequately consulted with affected households until after forests were significantly destroyed. In West Kalimantan, Iban villagers said they learned that the company had initiated operations in their forest only when bulldozers and other equipment rolled in to raze their land. A decade later, PT Ledo Lestari signed agreements with some families to relocate their homes a few kilometers into the plantation but did not provide any compensation for the loss of their indigenous forest and livelihoods derived from it. Their community is now enclaved within the company’s oil palm plantation, leaving them no land for gardens. The forest has been largely destroyed, clearing plants they use for food and materials used to make mats and baskets they sell to supplement household revenue. Community members said company representatives burned down their traditional homes at the old village, including the belongings of residents who refused to relocate.

In Jambi in central Sumatra, PT Sari Aditya Loka 1 failed to adequately consult with the Orang Rimba to mitigate any ongoing harm after legal reforms introduced clear obligations to do so. The company has not organized any meaningful consultations nor reached agreement to provide remedies to the Orang Rimba the company displaced from their forests.

The forest itself has been irrevocably changed. In the past, the forest provided community members with most of their needs – from food to rattan. Many Orang Rimba in Jambi province are now homeless, living in plastic tents, without livelihood support. Some Orang Rimba said they had been self-sufficient but are now reduced to begging on the highway or “stealing” oil palm fruits from the plantation area to sell and make money. Many now live in abject poverty.

In both communities, women experienced distinct losses in passing on intergenerational knowledge and skills, such as weaving mats and baskets made from forest products. Several Indigenous women also said they had lost sources of supplemental income.

In 2018 and 2019, Human Rights Watch wrote to both PT Ledo Lestari and PT Sari Aditya Loka 1 introducing our research and later explaining our findings, along with a list of questions. PT Ledo Lestari has not responded. In August, Human Rights Watch received a letter via email from the vice president of sustainability at PT Astra Agro Lestari Tbk, PT Sari Aditya Loka 1’s parent company. The letter provided details on education, health, and economic programs the company implemented in the area. However, both companies have failed to create any mechanism to explore restitution or provide just and fair compensation for losses suffered, in consultation with the Indigenous people affected.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights set out company responsibilities independent of government obligations to identify, prevent, mitigate, and remedy human rights abuses linked to their operations. Human Rights Watch research indicates that the companies were falling short of their human rights responsibilities.

Successive governments in Indonesia have turned a blind eye to widespread forest clearance, facilitating the proliferation of oil palm plantations. Between 2001 to 2017, Indonesia lost 24 million hectares of forest cover, an area almost the size of the United Kingdom. Indonesia has about 14 million hectares of land planted with oil palm.

Deforestation on such massive scale threatens not only the wellbeing and culture of the Indigenous populations, but also has global significance associated with climate change. The European Union responded to the environmental concerns around palm oil production by capping all palm oil imports for biofuel at 2019 levels until 2023, and a total phase-out by 2030. The EU policy should also advocate for transparency within the supply chain to curb human rights risks communities face due to oil palm plantations.

On September 23 at the Climate Action Summit in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be asking leaders from government and business to enhance their commitments to reduce carbon emissions drastically by mid-century. One key summit theme is a focus on nature-based solutions by increasing carbon sink capacity and enhancing resilience within and across forestry.

In 2018, President Joko Widodo announced a moratorium on new permits to oil palm plantations. The moratorium is a good start, but additional reforms are long overdue, Human Rights Watch said.

A bill to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights and ensure that simple recognition procedures are put in place is being debated in Indonesia’s parliament. If passed, it would go a long way in protecting Indigenous peoples’ rights to their customary forests.

“The poverty, hunger, and loss of identity experienced by Indigenous people in exchange for oil palm and the consumer goods it produces is a human rights tragedy,” Nnoko-Mewanu said. “Parliament should promptly adopt the bill to protect Indigenous rights to stop further irreversible damage caused by the palm industry.”

Selected accounts from the report:

Leni is a 43-year-old Iban Dayak woman and mother of two, in Jagoi Babang district of West Kalimantan province – an area her Indigenous community has inhabited for centuries. A decade and a half ago, lush forests with evergreen fruit-bearing rambutan trees surrounded Leni’s home. Currently, they have little land to farm and no forest in which to forage after the land was cleared to make way for an oil palm plantation run by an Indonesian company. Leni explained:

Before our lives were simple, not rich, but enough. Since oil palm came there is more suffering. I can’t feed my family. I have a baby. I must put food on the table every day. How do I do that when both of us [my husband and I] are not working. Every day I must figure out how to do this.

Maliau, an elderly Orang Rimba mother of nine children, has struggled to survive off land in Sarolangun district of Jambi province on the island of Sumatra. The forests once sustained her the families in her community. They have now been decimated by an oil palm plantation that began operating in the area nearly three decades ago:

Life was better before. Women could find many types of food. Some wove mats from leaves and baskets. We made lamps from gum resin. Now we cannot find materials to make these.

Mormonus, a 49-year-old village leader of Semunying Jaya, was one of two people who were detained by the police in 2006 for organizing protests against PT Ledo Lestari’s expansion into their forest:

Forest means everything. Forest provides water. Water is blood … land is body, wood is breath. When we lost the forest, we lost everything. We can’t pray to the god of oil palm.

Francesca, a 28-year-old Iban Dayak mother of two, said she and her husband refused relocation. She said that company representatives torched her home, rendering them homeless:

An assistant manager came to my home. On that day my oldest son had fever. He said to my husband, “Your five hectares of land here is gone and two hectares here is gone. Go to the company and get your money.” My husband told them he doesn’t want to sell. Months later, while I was at my mother’s new house [in the plantation] and my husband was away in Malaysia, we heard a loud noise and could see smoke. I went to see, and it was crazy. My house was already burned. Everything was in there, my son’s bicycle, clothes, and all the wood we planned to build a house, all was gone.

Susanti, a 37-year-old Iban Dayak single mother of four, said:

The [company] cleared the land and said I must move to another place. I had to sell my land or let them take it with no pay. I did this to survive. They [company] did not provide transportation for me to move my things [to new location]. They burned my wood and belongings I left behind.