In this issue:
Latest news and reports
- Inhuman sentencing
- Sexual abuse
- Health and nutrition
LATEST NEWS AND REPORTS
A 17-year-old boy is at risk of imminent execution in Iran after being convicted of rape and murder. In January this year the country’s Supreme Court upheld Amirhossein Pourjafar’s two death sentences, and said in its final verdict that the sentences were issued after taking into account “societal expectations and public opinion”. Rights groups are calling for his execution to be halted and for his sentence to be commuted to one of imprisonment. Pourjafar is scheduled to be executed in a prison in Tehran on 19 October. Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International said: “The authorities’ rush to send a child to the gallows in order to placate public anger is short-sighted and misguided. The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and irreversible punishment,” adding that the sentence for those under 18 is banned under international human rights law. The execution was scheduled just two months after the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, repeated Iran’s untruthful claims that it does not execute minors. Amnesty International has recorded the execution of 85 juvenile offenders in Iran between 2005 and 2017, including four so far this year. The organisation has also identified 92 individuals who are currently on death row for crimes committed when they were children.
Several children have been jailed and were reportedly forced to pay bribes to secure their freedom amid a crackdown against LGBT people in Burundi. Police announced a “hunt” for LGBT individuals on 6 October, informing the media that ‘“several” had already been arrested. Jean-Daniel Ndikumana, an LGBT rights campaigner from Burundi, now working as the head of a LGBTI asylum project in Belgium, explained that he feared police carried out the arrests after finding videos of men dancing together which had been posted on Facebook. Ndikumana explained that police had handcuffed seven people on 4 October, two days before announcing the crackdown. The country’s government has previously claimed that homosexuality “is against Burundian culture”, while President Pierre Nkurunziza enforced a ban on homosexuality in Burundi’s Penal Code in 2009.
Ethnic Uyghur women and children in China’s Xinjiang region are being forced to carry out heavy labour, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Anonymous sources claimed that, with many Uyghur men being sent to re-education camps, women and children are being pressed into jobs such as harvesting cotton by hand to support their households. Since April, thousands of Uyghurs accused by the government of harbouring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in a vast network of camps in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination and religious and cultural repression under Chinese rule. Officials reportedly told RFA that authorities are also detaining Uyghur men for travelling overseas where they are “influenced by extremism and other things,” refusing to free them until they admit it was “wrong” to have left the country.
The Canadian government has spent more than $110,000 in legal fees to avoid paying for an indigenous child’s $6,000 orthodontic treatment. Josey Willier, 16, suffers chronic pain in her lower gums as a result of impacted teeth and a severe overbite and has been on painkillers every day for the past two years. An orthodontist recommended braces to avoid invasive jaw surgery, but Health Canada, the department responsible for national public health care, denied an application and three appeals by Willier’s mother to pay for the treatment under the First Nations and Inuit health benefit programme. Health services for First Nations people living on reserves are funded almost entirely by the federal government, and while dental care is often excluded, orthodontic treatments are fully covered when deemed “medically necessary”. The department determined Willier’s case “fell short” after it consulted with four orthodontists of its own choosing, none of whom examined the girl. Sarah Clarke, the lawyer representing the girl pro bono, said the health programme is fundamentally flawed because departmental approval is not based on a child's level of suffering. The case is now being dealt with at a federal court, and a decision is expected in May 2018.
As many as 400 unaccompanied refugee children who claim to have relatives in the United Kingdom are trapped in France, where their asylum cases are not being actively considered, human rights lawyers have said in a new report. More than 900 unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children were allowed into the UK from Europe in 2016, according to the UK Home Office, which disputes that asylum applications have stalled. But the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) says that poorly handled family reunion cases dating from when the Calais “Jungle” camp was demolished last year has left these children stranded. The BHRC says age assessments were “arbitrary and discriminatory”, in many cases based on physical appearance alone. Two officials from the organisation which conducted assessments on teenage migrants said that “children who had identity documents were being expelled from the queue if their appearance did not fit”. The BHRC also said that children were not given the opportunity to challenge age assessments which put them over the age of 18, and that restrictions imposed by French officials on lawyers, stopping them from giving advice to refugees, compounded the children’s problems.
Cameroon’s military has tortured, assaulted, and sexually abused Nigerian asylum seekers, including children, in remote border areas, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). UN monitoring partners also previously found that soldiers have forcibly deported 100,000 refugees since 2015, and denied many access to the UN refugee agency. The military’s actions are an apparent effort to stem the spread of the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, says HRW. Sixty-one asylum seekers were interviewed for the report, with testimonies claiming soldiers accused them of belonging to Boko Haram or being “Boko Haram wives”. Some said that ill, weak and hungry children died during or just after the deportations, and others said children were separated from their parents. One refugee said that Cameroonian soldiers shouted “Go and die in Nigeria” as they were rounded up at the border and deported. The forced deportations breach the principle of non-refoulement, which bans the return of refugees if their return means they would face persecution or situations of generalised violence. Nigeria is also complicit in the unlawful deportations, after it sent military vehicles over the border in June 2017 to help Cameroon deport almost 1,000 refugees.
The Supreme Court of India has found that the marital exemption to rape is unconstitutional where the victim is under the age of 18, making it possible to prosecute husbands who have sex with their child brides. Before the decision, it was not possible for a husband to be prosecuted for rape if his wife was older than 15, even though the age of sexual consent is 18 in India. The country banned child marriage in 2006 and passed a law criminalising a broad range of sexual offences against children in 2012, which allow for the prosecution of husbands who commit other sexual offences against their wives, but the marital rape exemption was retained. An estimated 23 million child brides live in India, with 47 percent of girls in the country having married before their 18th birthday and 18 percent before their 15th between 2008 and 2014. The case does not affect the law for men who rape their adult wives, but activists have expressed hope that the case will ease the path to repealing the marital rape exemption entirely.
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) has received another allegation that a child has been sexually abused by peacekeepers, with the crime alleged to have taken place in Bambari, a town in the centre of the country. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has launched an inquiry into the report to verify information and preserve evidence, but the case will be referred to the accused peacekeeper’s home country, which is responsible for prosecuting offences committed by soldiers it has contributed to peacekeeping forces. Reports of sexual abuse committed by peacekeepers in the country first emerged in 2014 when the then Director of Field Operations at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights passed a report on child sexual abuse committed by French peacekeepers to authorities. Since the revelations, the UN has been criticised for failing to prevent abuse and hold perpetrators to account. The UN appointed Jane Connors as its first Victims’ Rights Advocate last month, tasking her with developing mechanisms and policies for victims and witnesses to file complaints.
Health and nutrition
Rates of childhood obesity are rising rapidly around the world, increasing more than tenfold over the past four decades, according to the largest-ever analysis of the data. The research from Imperial College London shows that in 1975 there were five million obese girls and six million obese boys worldwide. Last year these numbers had risen to 50 million and 74 million respectively. The largest increase in obesity in five to 19-year-olds since 1975 has been in East Asia, the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and in the Middle East and North Africa. If these trends continue, researchers predict that global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth by 2022. The lead author of the study, Professor Majjid Ezzati said: "The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods".
In Mali, as many as 165,000 children may face severe acute malnutrition as regional violence and displacement continues to fuel a worsening nutrition crisis. Across the north of the country many thousands of people have been uprooted, with basic health services and access to water and sanitation being severely disrupted. As a result of the conflict, UNICEF has estimated that 165,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the next year, compared to 142,000 during this year. Child malnutrition leads to serious health implications for children, muscles waste away, they have very low weight for their height, and are nine times more likely to die from diseases due to a weakened immune system. The rates of global acute malnutrition among children in the conflict-hit areas of Gao and Timbuktu in northern Mali have risen to above 15 percent, exceeding the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.
A UN expert has reported that air pollution in Mongolia is interfering with children’s rights to life and health, causing respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses that can lead to premature death. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, visited Mongolia in September as part of his mandate, and reported that households burning coal and emissions from power plants and vehicles were the main contributors to the pollution, especially in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. UNICEF estimates that in Ulaanbaatar alone more than 400 children under the age of five die every year as a result of pollution-related pneumonia. Knox also highlighted the issue of rampant illegal gold mining in Mongolia, not just by artisanal miners, but also by more organised mining operations. Children were found to be playing near unguarded and dangerous open pits, and open mining is causing respiratory illnesses and the drying up of wells, all while suitable land available for herders to graze their livestock is decreasing.
THE LAST WORD
This week’s uncontested Human Rights Council elections did anything but justice to its voting rules, which require that council members should ”take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights”, adding that members should “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the countries with seats on the Council.
No human rights monitoring body would be complete without serial rights-abusers such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the Philippines, all three of which remain on the Council following last week’s elections. To consolidate the Council’s credibility further, Afghanistan and Pakistan now also wear the HRC badge.
It might be that we’re ignorant about the “highest standards” of human rights they each represent. Perhaps we should sneak a peek at another newly elected country? Consider the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the issues raised in the Human Rights Committee’s latest review of the country’s human rights record just this week:
Impunity for rights abusers has encouraged new rights violations
Several candidates for upcoming elections were disappeared and allegedly tortured
Sexual violence against women remains pervasive
Discrimination against LGBT people is commonplace
Violence against civilians is widespread and ongoing
Armed groups continue to use children as soldiers
Restrictions on peaceful assemblies and demonstrations are in place
The country’s new Human Rights Commission appears to have received no funding
If you’re still not sure why such a country would be elected to the HRC, then we can’t help you, because we’re confused too.