Category Archives: News


India: Citizenship Bill Discriminates Against Muslims

A protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Gauhati, India on December 10, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Anupam Nath

(New York) – The Indian government’s proposed law to grant citizenship based on religion violates India’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 protects only the rights of non-Muslim irregular immigrants from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The bill passed the lower house of parliament on December 9 and will be introduced in the upper house on December 11. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has sought to justify singling out non-Muslim migrants by claiming that the proposed law will give sanctuary to religious minorities fleeing persecution in neighboring countries.

“The Indian government’s claim that the citizenship law aims to protect religious minorities rings hollow by excluding Ahmadiyya from Pakistan and Rohingya from Myanmar,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia. “The bill uses the language of refuge and sanctuary, but discriminates on religious grounds in violation of international law.”

The bill reflects many other policies promoted by the BJP government that favor majority Hindus at the expense of Muslims, such as the failure to properly prosecute party supporters implicated in attacks on religious minorities. The government has also deported Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security.

BJP politicians have also demonized Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers, including calling them “infiltrators,” to gain electoral support. For instance, in September 2018 at an election rally in Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah said “illegal immigrants are like termites and they are eating the food that should go to our poor and they are taking our jobs. They carry out blasts in our country and so many of our people die,” referring to Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. He promised that, “if we come to power in 2019, we will find each and every one and send them away. Action against them should not worry any patriot.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make irregular immigrants from Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for citizenship, but excludes Muslims. The government makes a distinction between Muslims, who it says have immigrated illegally, and “refugees” – namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains trying to escape persecution in their country of origin. Defending the bill in parliament, Shah said, “There is a fundamental difference between a refugee and an infiltrator. This bill is for refugees.”

In January, several opposition lawmakers, part of the joint parliamentary committee that reviewed the bill, concluded that it violates articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution, which guarantee the right to equality and nondiscrimination.

During the parliamentary debate on December 9, several opposition leaders opposed the bill as an assault on the foundational values of the country. “[T]his is merely a cynical political exercise to further single out and disenfranchise an entire community in India and in doing so, a betrayal of all that was good and noble about our civilization,” said Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker from the Indian National Congress party.

The bill comes amid the BJP government’s push for a nationwide citizenship verification process, a National Register of Citizens (NRC), that would identify irregular immigrants, which government statements indicate are aimed at disenfranchising and stripping Muslims of their citizenship rights. The bill, says Shah, will ensure protection of Hindus and other non-Muslims. “I want to assure all Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, and Christian refugees, that you will not be forced to leave India by the Center [government]. Don’t believe rumors. Before NRC, we will bring [the] Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will ensure these people get Indian citizenship,” Shah said in October.

The National Register of Citizens has already left nearly two million people at risk of arbitrary detention and statelessness in India’s northeast state of Assam. In August, Assam completed the NRC following repeated protests and violence by Assamese groups against ethnic Bengali settlers who they said were affecting the cultural, ethnic, and economic rights of Assam’s original inhabitants. However, both Hindus and Muslims were among the two million people excluded from the list. The BJP has indicated that it considers the new citizenship law as the solution for Bengali-speaking Hindus left out of the NRC in Assam. Dilip Kumar Paul, a BJP lawmaker, said that, “Our BJP’s stand is that Hindus can never be foreigners.”

The proposed law has drawn international condemnation, including from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which said that if the bill passes, the US government “should consider sanctions against the home minister and other principal leadership.”

The proposed law violates India’s international obligations to prevent deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin as found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other human rights treaties. The 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities establishes the obligation of countries to protect the existence and identity of religious minorities within their territories and to adopt the appropriate measures to achieve this end. Governments are required to ensure that people belonging to minority groups, including religious minorities, may exercise their human rights without discrimination and in full equality before the law.

“The Indian government is creating legal grounds to strip millions of Muslims of the fundamental right of equal access to citizenship,” Ganguly said. “The government should demonstrate its expressed commitment to protecting refugees by passing a law that protects them irrespective of their religion.”


Who Cares About North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses?

The UN Security Council holds a meeting on November 20, 2019, at United Nations headquarters in New York.

© 2019 AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

For the second year in a row, the United States has prevented the United Nations Security Council from scrutinizing North Korea’s abysmal human rights record, sending a clear message to Pyongyang and other abusive governments that the US is prepared to look away regarding rights violations. 

The special Security Council meeting was set to convene today, to coincide with Human Rights Day. Earlier this month it appeared the Council had the minimum number of member votes – nine, including the US – for the meeting to happen. But on December 6, US Ambassador Kelly Craft told reporters her delegation had not yet decided whether to go ahead with the meeting

According to Foreign Policy, the about-face was an attempt by President Trump to preserve efforts to persuade Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons ahead of next year’s US presidential election.

The move signals the Trump administration doesn’t consider North Korea’s human rights violations to be a big deal.

The Council plans to hold a different meeting on North Korea later this week, focused on the country’s weapons proliferation activities. While some delegations may raise Pyongyang’s rights record in their speeches, that is no substitute for a meeting devoted to human rights.

North Korea has always hated the annual Security Council meetings focused on its widespread use of arbitrary detention, starvation, torture, summary executions, sexual violence and other crimes against the North Korean people. Last year, North Korea’s UN envoy called the meetings, held annually between 2014 and 2017, an attempt to “stoke confrontation.”

That message was apparently received, as the Council abandoned the annual meeting last year. That inaction sent a message to North Korea’s leadership that human rights had become a second-tier issue.

In 2014, a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea said in a report that Pyongyang’s abuses were so severe the Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The UN Human Rights Council mandated a UN office to collect evidence of abuses for possible use in future prosecutions. 

Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials will undoubtedly be elated they can duck US criticism of their human rights record once again this year. In the meantime, the rest of the Security Council should find a way to resume the North Korea human rights meetings even without the Trump administration’s support.


US Imposes Human Rights Day Sanctions on Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

It’s been a difficult year for the human rights movement. This has been true especially in Washington, where the US government under President Donald Trump has largely abandoned advancing a global human rights agenda.

On Human Rights Day, December 10, however, part of the system worked. The US Treasury Department finally acted on repeated recommendations from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and announced sanctions against senior commanders in the Myanmar military. The commanders are implicated in a slew of crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses, in particular against ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, committed since 2017. Those sanctioned include the commander-in-chief of the military, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and several commanders deployed in Rakhine. Abuses included mass forced deportations, mass arson, summary executions, systematic mass rape, and torture, resulting in the displacement of over 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.

The decision came only a day after another remarkable, unrelated decision to impose sanctions on the commander of the Cambodia military, Gen. Kun Kim. Kim is implicated in mass corruption and gross human rights abuses over his decades-long career in the Cambodian government, dating all the way back to his time as a Khmer Rouge official in the 1970s. (Sanctions were also announced on December 10 against officials from South Sudan, Pakistan, and other countries.)

Sanctions hit military officials where it hurts: their bank accounts. Myanmar and Cambodia security forces are never going to end their abuses, and their governments will never change their behavior, unless the costs of defying the international system are made too high to withstand. Under the sanctions announced today, commanders’ assets in their foreign bank accounts have been frozen or restricted from transfer within the international banking system.

If the European Union follows suit and works with the US to press other jurisdictions to crack down (including Singapore, the region’s banking center), soon the Myanmar and Cambodian security forces will find that their world is geographically and financially shrinking.

The sanctions also dovetail with other efforts to increase pressure on Myanmar. The decision on sanctions comes in the same week Myanmar appeared at a hearing before the International Court of Justice in The Hague to answer a complaint brought by Gambia under the Genocide Convention. The government is simultaneously facing a potential criminal investigation by the International Criminal Court.

There is a still a long way to go before the victims of the Myanmar’s military can obtain justice. But today there were some important steps forward.


Pressure Mounts on New York Governor to Ban Toxic Pesticide

Pressure is growing for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide.

The scientific evidence on the harms of chlorpyrifos is overwhelming and irrefutable. On Friday, the European Union acted to ban sales of chlorpyrifos beginning in 2020, after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that no amount of chlorpyrifos exposure was safe. The pesticide has been linked to reduced IQ and learning disabilities in children, as well as cancer, and Parkinson’s disease in adults.  

“Sara” (left) and “Susana,” 16-year-old twin sisters who worked together on tobacco farms in 2015, sit in their bedroom in the clothes they wear to try to protect themselves in tobacco fields. They described working near areas where pesticides were being applied. Susana said, “We are just working … and the worker is on the tractor spraying almost very close to us. But they don’t take us out of that area. They don’t even warn us that it is dangerous. Nothing. We are just working and we cover ourselves well because the smell is very strong, and we get sick with the smell of that spray.” Sara said, “I feel dizzy, very dizzy because the smell is unbearable. It’s very strong and my stomach begins to feel stirred. I feel as if I am going to faint right then and there from the smell.”

© 2015 Benedict Evans for Human Rights Watch

This week, the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, representing over 5,000 pediatricians across the state, called on Cuomo to sign the chlorpyrifos bill citing “numerous studies showing that exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb harms children’s brain development.” Human Rights Watch has joined with over 80 other organizations working to protect the environment, public health, workers and children to support the ban on chlorpyrifos.

In New York, the pesticide is used on apples, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other crops. It also seeps into the water supply, jeopardizing both public health and the environment.

Farmworkers are at particular risk. For two decades, Human Rights Watch has documented the dangers to children working in US agriculture, including pesticide exposure. Many children have told us that after encountering pesticides, they experienced vomiting, dizziness, headaches, burning of the eyes and nose, and other acute health effects.

The Trump administration has refused to ban chlorpyrifos, overruling recommendations from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency. In the absence of federal leadership, it’s up to state leaders like Cuomo to protect the public from this dangerous chemical.

Governments are responsible for safeguarding health, especially for children, and ensuring workers are protected from exposure to harmful chemicals. That’s why banning chlorpyrifos is a human rights imperative. Cuomo still has time to do the right thing.