Category Archives: News


Northeast Syria: Boys, Men Held in Inhumane Conditions

Detainees in what The Times of London describes as an informal detention center for Islamic State (ISIS) suspects in northeast Syria.  

© 2019 The Times/Anthony Loyd

(Beirut) – A Kurdish-led armed group backed by the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is detaining thousands of Syrian and foreign men and boys in severely overcrowded informal detention centers in northeast Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. The heightened possibility of a Turkish invasion of northeast Syria underscores the urgent need for countries to immediately ensure that their imprisoned citizens can return home for rehabilitation, reintegration, and appropriate prosecution in line with international standards.

On October 7, 2019, US President Donald Trump announced a pullout of US troops from northeast Syria, an area controlled by the Kurdish-led armed group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which had been a key member of the international coalition against ISIS. The group is detaining thousands of Syrian and foreign men and boys in severely overcrowded schools and other buildings in northeast Syria.

“Thousands of people, including children, are stuck in what amounts to shockingly overcrowded prisons on suspicion of being ISIS, but no one is accepting responsibility for them,” said Letta Tayler, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Any authority that effectively controls these informal prisons is legally bound to urgently improve conditions and ensure that each and every detainee is held lawfully.”

The SDF says it is holding 12,000 prisoners, including 4,000 foreigners, in 7 detention centers in northeast Syria. Human Rights Watch spoke to two witnesses, including a former prisoner, who described harrowing conditions and severe overcrowding in the detention centers. The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration controlling northern Syria says it lacks the resources to detain the prisoners properly and that their own countries should bring them home for investigation and potential prosecution. Most countries have failed to do so.

Human Rights Watch interviewed a journalist who said he had visited one of the detention facilities and reviewed his video footage published in The Times of London on September 30. The footage showed cells with dozens of men in orange jumpsuits packed together tightly, their bodies touching, and an equally crowded medical block in a detention center holding boys. The journalist said the detainees included British, French, Belgian, and US citizens, and that they were held in “terrible, terrible conditions.” CBS news published similar images on September 17. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the images independently.

According to The Times, the people pictured were captured during the battle of Baghouz, which ended in February, and held on suspicion of being ISIS members.

Another person who visited one of the detention centers showed Human Rights Watch two recent photos that also showed severe overcrowding as well as male prisoners who appeared to be children sharing cells with men.

The journalist, Anthony Loyd, said he saw more than 450 detainees in the hospital block of one detention center, including children as young as 12. Many patients were not receiving adequate care and some had died of their injuries in the detention center, he said.

“Several prisoners had multiple amputations and I saw one with his intestines hanging out beneath a bloody dressing. The situation was pretty bleak,” Loyd said. “There were children there.”

The SDF is detaining many boys, some as young as 12, in informal detention centers, but others, particularly younger boys, are held with their parents in camps for suspected ISIS family members or in centers for children apprehended without their parents. One 16-year-old, who spoke with Human Rights Watch in June at a center for unaccompanied boys, said that the SDF and US forces appeared to decide at random which boys to imprison and which to send to the camps or centers.

“One American twice put me in a line to go to jail. But another American cursed him and said, ‘Why are you putting him back? The boy is small,’” the boy said.

The evidence and images reviewed by Human Rights Watch strongly suggest that conditions are unfit to hold detainees and fail to meet basic international standards.

Countries that have refused to allow the return of their nationals held in informal detention centers, or in squalid northeast Syrian camps holding more than 100,000 women and children related to ISIS suspects, nearly half of them foreigners, cite national security concerns and insufficient evidence for prosecution as justification for leaving them there.

Local authorities claim they do not have the necessary infrastructure to prosecute foreign ISIS suspects in line with international due process standards. They have nevertheless set up courts that have tried thousands of Syrian ISIS suspects in flawed proceedings. But neither the Syrian government nor the international community – including the Autonomous Administration’s own international partners – recognize the courts, raising doubts about the enforceability of the rulings.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Mandela Rules”) require that “[a]ll accommodation provided for the use of prisoners … shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.” The rules state that “sanitary installations shall be adequate to enable every prisoner to comply with the needs of nature when necessary and in a clean and decent manner” and that “[a]dequate bathing and shower installations shall be provided.”

The Autonomous Administration should stop detaining children solely for suspected ISIS membership. Children who have been associated with armed groups should be treated primarily as victims who need rehabilitation assistance and help reintegrating into society. Children who may have committed other violent offenses should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards and detained only as a last resort. Child suspects should be held separately from adults, unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so.

In addition to immediately ensuring that citizens trapped in northeast Syria can return to countries that guarantee due process, countries including members of the International Coalition against ISIS should also press and provide support to detaining authorities to end the inhumane conditions for those who cannot be promptly taken home or be involuntarily resettled without risk of torture or ill-treatment, including citizens of Iraq. The detaining authorities should ensure that anyone it is holding has been detained according to law, including prompt judicial review of each detainee to ensure the legality and necessity of detention, and that no one is held in inhumane or degrading conditions.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, anyone detained on suspicion for committing criminal offenses should be taken promptly before a judge or an equivalent authority to order their release. Anyone so detained is entitled to a trial within a reasonable time or release. The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the covenant, has said that the right to a judicial review of detention continues at all times, including in emergency situations.

Pending repatriation or third-country resettlement of non-Syrian prisoners to countries where they are not at risk of torture, ill-treatment, or unfair trials, the US-led coalition and countries with nationals held in northeast Syria should provide financial and technical support to the detaining authorities. The funding should be used to ensure that the authorities house all detainees in official prisons that are built to accommodate detainees and meet basic international standards including standards regarding juvenile justice.

“That those detained are ISIS suspects is no excuse for home countries to look the other way,” Tayler said. “If conditions in these prisons don’t improve, then home countries’ fears of radicalization and ISIS resurgence could become a reality.”


Myanmar: Rohingya Jailed for Traveling

A police officer stands guard at a checkpoint in Shwe Zar village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, September 6, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo

(New York) – Myanmar authorities should immediately release 30 Rohingya Muslims detained for attempting to travel from Rakhine State to the city of Yangon, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should lift all travel restrictions on ethnic Rohingya and repeal discriminatory regulations that limit their right to freedom of movement.

Police arrested the group of Rohingya on September 26, 2019. A week later, a court sentenced 21 of them to two years in prison, and sent eight children to a child detention center. The youngest, a 5-year-old, is being held at Pathein prison with his mother.

“Myanmar authorities seem intent on persecuting Rohingya whether they stay at home or try to travel freely in the country,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These 30 men, women, and children are being punished for simply seeking an escape from the daily brutality they’ve been subjected to for years.”

The authorities apprehended the group for traveling without official permits and documentation after they arrived in Ayeyarwady Region via boat from Sittwe township in central Rakhine State. The group was en route to Yangon, where they planned to seek work or attempt to continue onward to Malaysia, according to media reports.

It’s a cruel irony that these Rohingya will be trading what was effectively confinement to open air detention in Rakhine State for confinement in a state prison in Pathein.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

On October 4, the Ngapudaw Township Court sentenced 21 of the Rohingya to two years in Pathein prison following a one-day hearing during which they were reportedly denied access to legal representation. They were convicted under section 6(3) of the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act, which carries a maximum two-year sentence. Rohingya frequently face arrest and prosecution for attempting to travel between townships or outside of Rakhine State.

The eight children were sent to a “training school” in Kawhmu township, Yangon Region, where their families will not be able to visit them. Radio Free Asia reported that “a decision has yet to be made” about the 5-year-old.

An estimated 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State subject to ongoing government persecution and violence, two years after a military campaign of ethnic cleansing forced more than 740,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh. Those who remain in Myanmar are trapped in appalling conditions, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, medical care, education, and livelihoods.

Rohingya in Myanmar are denied freedom of movement through arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions, including formal laws and policies, local orders and regulations, ad hoc practices such as extortion, and a broad culture of threats and violence. They are effectively denied citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has been the basis for refusing them legal documentation that would allow them to travel.

The government’s restrictions on Rohingya violate international human rights law, which guarantees the right to freedom of movement both within the country and to leave Myanmar. The right to freedom of movement does not depend on nationality, and statelessness cannot be invoked as a justification for the denial of free movement.

Myanmar authorities should lift all arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement for Rohingya, repeal discriminatory regulations and local orders, and cease all official and unofficial practices that restrict their movement and livelihoods, such as arbitrary roadblocks and extortion systems. The government should amend the 1982 Citizenship Law in line with international standards.

“It’s a cruel irony that these Rohingya will be trading what was effectively confinement to open air detention in Rakhine State for confinement in a state prison in Pathein,” Adams said. “Their imprisonment stands as a clear marker to the United Nations and foreign governments encouraging the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh that Myanmar has no interest in granting its Rohingya population fundamental freedoms.”


UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya condemns increasing attacks on civilians

Source: UN Support Mission in Libya
Country: Libya

A field hospital in Tripoli was hit resulting in the death of one doctor and two paramedics injured. Yacoub El Hillo, calls for the respect of international humanitarian law and protection of civilians.

Tripoli, 08 October 2019 – The Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, strongly condemns all attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Libya.

Newly arrived El Hillo is reminded of the hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the armed conflict. The air strikes two days ago that injured several children at the Equestrian Club in the Janzour neighborhood of Tripoli marks one of the lowest points in this conflict. The following day, a field hospital in the Gaser Ben Gasher neighborhood of Tripoli was hit resulting in the death of one doctor and injury of two paramedics.

Equally disturbing are attacks against medical facilities and health workers which are a growing phenomenon in the Libyan conflict that goes to the heart of violations of international humanitarian law. There have been 57 attacks on healthcare facilities in 2019 which resulted in the death of 13 healthcare workers and injury of 47 others in Libya.

Humanitarian Coordinator El Hillo stresses that attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure violate international humanitarian law. He urges international parties with influence in Libya to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and to do everything possible to protect civilians, especially children. The people of Libya deserve to live in peace and have a better future. Respecting international humanitarian law would be a start.

For more information, please contact:
Kasper Engborg, Deputy Head of OCHA Office,


Supreme Court Considers Rights of LGBT Workers in the US

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters


Today, the US Supreme Court heard three cases that will clarify the scope of federal civil rights laws – and whether workers can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The three cases – brought by a woman who was fired from a funeral home because she is transgender and a skydiver and a social worker who were fired because they are gay – pose the question of whether discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other grounds.

Advocates point out that transgender people are singled out for discrimination precisely because their identity or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth. They argue that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people face discrimination that they would not face if the single fact of their sex was changed and their attractions or relationships were heterosexual.

Multiple courts have agreed with their position. The appeals courts that cover Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin recently ruled that Title VII protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers. An even larger set of federal appeals courts have ruled that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII, has echoed these conclusions.

The Trump administration has taken a different tack. Over the summer, the Department of Justice filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII does not protect LGBT workers. The briefs are the latest in a series of moves to weaken protections for LGBT people in education, housing, health care, adoption and foster care, and businesses and services.

As the Trump administration takes aim at LGBT workers, Congress has the power to act. The House of Representatives recently passed the Equality Act, which would explicitly clarify that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under federal civil rights laws. The Senate should bring the bill to a vote – and should ensure that nobody is fired because of who they are or who they love.