Category Archives: News

07Apr/21

Counterterrorism Police ‘Clean Up’ After Tibetan Monk’s Death

Following the January 19 death in police custody of a teenage Tibetan monk, Chinese authorities have commenced an operation to “clean up” Tibetan homes in the grassland town of Dza Wonpo, Sichuan province. Tenzin Nyima died from injuries he received while being detained after participating in a peaceful protest with three other monks. Now, it seems, officials are looking to clamp down on any further information getting out.

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Screenshot of a video showing dozens of police and commandos parading through the town of Dza Wonpo, carrying a large red flag and shouting battle-cries.
© Private

The Snow Wolf Commandos, a unit of the People’s Armed Police responsible for counterterrorism operations, arrived in Wonpo on March 5, ostensibly to visit a home for older people and clean up the residents’ rooms.

But video seen by Human Rights Watch also shows dozens of police and commandos parading through the town of about 3,000 residents, almost all Tibetans, carrying a large red flag and shouting battle-cries.

A local source says the commandos searched houses, including the home for older people, confiscated photos of the Dalai Lama, and put up portraits of China’s leaders on the walls. Authorities detained several Tibetan residents who had posted notes on social media expressing concern about Tenzin Nyima’s death. Their identities and whereabouts are unknown. Local residents have also been required to download an app to their phones, giving officials access to the user’s data.

This “clean-up” operation took place one day after the county’s top official, Communist Party Secretary Yang Mingguang, visited Wonpo to inspect “recent key tasks” in the town. Yang had given “in-depth guidance” to monks at the local monastery and told the town’s police to “strengthen key tasks to ensure social stability in the near future.”

Since then, officials have announced that anyone possessing or displaying images of the Dalai Lama would be liable to criminal prosecution and would have to repay in full any assistance or funds received from the government. At a public meeting on March 17, officials required attendees to sign a five-point document undertaking not to keep or distribute pictures of the Dalai Lama and agreeing to “follow the Party and oppose any illegal activity.”

Tibetans who distribute unofficial news about their situation risk severe punishment, especially if that information is sent outside the country. Apart from photos of police helping older citizens, future news from Wonpo is likely to be scarce.

07Apr/21

Afghanistan: UN Should Ensure Women’s Full Role in Talks

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on June 14, 2017.
© 2017 KYDPL KYODO

(New York) – Women should have full participation in the talks between Afghan government officials, opposition political leaders, and the Taliban under United Nations auspices, Human Rights Watch said today. Human rights advocates in Afghanistan have raised concerns that women and victims’ organizations will be sidelined in the talks, tentatively scheduled for April 16, 2021, in Istanbul.

Senior UN officials – notably Secretary-General António Guterres, Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed, the secretary-general’s personal envoy on Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, and the special representative for the secretary-general on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons – should make a public commitment to fully include women in the main talks, and not only in “parallel” side events devoted to civil society groups.

“As the Afghanistan conference host, the United Nations needs to ensure that women are full participants in the core talks,” said Heather Barr, interim women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch. “UN officials should make clear that women should not be relegated to side discussions but need a central role in determining Afghanistan’s future.”

The Istanbul talks, tentatively scheduled to begin on April 16, 2021, are to discuss proposed peace plans that include a possible interim government. Leading Afghan political figures, including former president Hamid Karzai and other heads of political factions, are likely to attend along with government officials from the High Council on National Reconciliation. The United States government has promoted these talks in an effort to accelerate negotiations before a US troop withdrawal.

A meeting in Moscow on March 18 that aimed to advance peace talks included a similar roster of political figures, including several implicated in serious human rights abuses from the Afghan government and other political groups, plus the Taliban, along with diplomats from partner countries. The Afghan government delegation at that event included only one woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, even though the government’s official delegation on intra-Afghan talks that have been ongoing in Doha, Qatar, includes 4 women among its 20 members. In both settings, the Taliban delegation has been entirely male.

The UN has repeatedly stated its commitment to ensuring the full participation of Afghan women in the peace process. In November 2019, Deputy Secretary‑General Mohamed said that “women’s inclusion is critical to sustainable peace and development in Afghanistan. Afghan women can rely on the full solidarity and commitment of everyone here today as individuals, and as representatives of Member States and organizations.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, calls for women’s “equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” Since then, the Security Council has passed seven additional resolutions on women, peace, and security.

Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan have for years raised concerns that the government will trade away women’s rights to reach an accommodation with the Taliban. The Afghan government has often resisted including women in peace talks. In June 2015, the government adopted a national action plan to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 from 2015 through 2022, including the goal of “[e]nsuring women’s effective participation in the peace process,” but the plan lacked detail and has not been meaningfully carried out. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has also called for a commitment to women’s full participation in the talks.

The US, in particular, has an important role to play in promoting full participation by women in the upcoming talks, Human Rights Watch said. The US is seeking an agreement in Afghanistan as the administration of President Joe Biden weighs whether to comply with the May 1 deadline for US troop withdrawal that was set in the February 2020 deal between the US and the Taliban negotiated by the previous US administration.

A leaked US government draft plan, dated February 28, calls for a transitional “peace government” in Afghanistan with appointments to that government be made “with special consideration for the meaningful inclusion of women…throughout government institutions.” But “meaningful inclusion” falls short of the “full participation in the peace process” set out under Resolution 1325.

“The US should not stay silent if the Afghan government shuts women out of peace talks,” Barr said. “It’s critical for the Biden administration to be clear that Afghan women need to be full participants in all talks, and that women’s rights are not a bargaining chip.”

07Apr/21

How to Chart an Equitable Exit from the Pandemic

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A person in Soweto, South Africa receives an injection as they participate in a clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine in June 2020. 
© 2020 Siphiwe Sibeko/AFP via Getty Images

Today marks World Health Day with the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for increased government investment and cooperation to tackle global health inequities. Government policy and practice primarily determine the equity or otherwise of health outcomes both within and between countries. But the actions of pharmaceutical companies also have a huge impact on whether people have access to affordable life-saving health care.

Structural weaknesses in countries’ healthcare and social safety nets contribute to massive disparities in access to lifesaving support.

To chart an equitable exit from the Covid-19 pandemic, governments should ensure universal and affordable vaccine access or they risk further entrenching inequality and eroding human rights. Vaccine roll-out has so far largely mirrored the inequities that marked the rest of the pandemic: rich governments made opaque deals and prebooked the vast majority of scarce vaccine supplies, while also opposing efforts to temporarily waive complex global trade rules that could give us the best chance of universal and affordable vaccine access for all. This has increased the risk that the pandemic — as well as the inequality and rights abuses that have flourished — will continue in many countries for years to come.

Responding to the pandemic — via social distancing, quarantines, and business closures — has had an enormous economic impact. Low-income workers, who are often unable to work remotely, were disproportionately affected. Economic support during the pandemic has helped, but many people in need were left out. And government reliance on poorly designed or neglected technological infrastructure to distribute benefits has delayed and denied access to support while causing privacy problems.

Health care workers faced serious health and safety risks. Older people, people with disabilities, and women shouldered extraordinary burdens due to neglectful and discriminatory policy decisions. Schools around the world closed, shutting out an estimated 1.4 billion students, who may fall behind with some maybe never returning to education.

Health as a human right — enshrined in the WHO charter — means Covid-19 vaccines should be available to everyone. It means water and sanitation for everyone, social protection for everyone, and health care for everyone.

Covid-19 vaccine developments have shown that science can create technologies to save lives at a miraculous pace. Now it’s time to ensure everyone benefits — to end this pandemic and protect the right to health more broadly.

Equity is not a miracle, but fundamental for protecting rights.