Entries in Human Rights Watch (5)


Syria Accused of Using Cluster Bombs Against Civilians

AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- An international human rights watchdog group is accusing Syria of using powerful Russia-made cluster bombs against its own civilians.

Human Rights Watch is alleging that the cluster bombs, which release smaller submunitions over a wide area to maximize their killing power, landed on the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan after being dropped from Syrian planes and helicopters.

The use of these bombs, which are banned by over 100 countries because of the harm they pose to civilians, was apparently to take back control of the town, which fell into rebel hands last week.

Maarat al-Numan is a strategic stronghold since it lies between Damascus and Syria's largest city of Aleppo.

Human Rights Watch considers the cluster bomb-attacks in civilian populated areas a war crime.

Syria, along with its allies Russia and China, did not sign an international pact agreeing not to use cluster bombs.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syria Has 27 Torture Centers: Report

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Syrian government has subjected tens of thousands of detained protesters, including women and children, to electroshock, sexual assault, mock executions and other forms of torture in 27 different torture centers across Syria, according to a human rights group.

In a report published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the torture was widespread and systematic, with consistent methods used by four different security and intelligence agencies.

"The systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture that Human Rights Watch documented clearly point to a state policy of torture and ill-treatment and therefore constitute a crime against humanity," HRW said. According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 Syrians have died since mass protests against the Assad regime began in March 2011.

The report includes a map that pinpoints the 27 torture centers, which are often prisons and police stations and are clustered around major cities like Damascus and Homs where protests have been most intense. HRW also provides sketches of alleged torture methods based on detailed accounts gathered from more than 200 interviews conducted since March 2011 with both former detainees and defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence forces who served at the torture centers.

"They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest, and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke," said a 31-year-old man who was detained in Idlib in June. "They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.”

Other torture methods described in the report include hanging detainees from the ceiling and beating them with cables, whips and pipes and pulling out fingernails with pliers.

Former detainees who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported witnessing the death of other detainees while in custody, though the rights group has not been able to confirm independently the numbers of fatalities in detainment.

While the majority of those interviewed were men between the ages of 18 and 35, Nadim Houry, the deputy director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, told ABC News the group also interviewed women, children and the elderly.

"I interviewed a child as young as 11 years old and a man over 70 who had been detained and tortured when security forces couldn't find his sons," said Houry.

Houry also said that activists from across Syria's religious communities, including the ruling Alawite minority, had reported being detained.

Anti-government protests have been raging across the country for over a year and have become increasingly violent over recent months. The Syrian authorities have maintained that they are battling foreign-funded terrorists while activists contend that they are fighting for freedom and democracy. The United Nations puts the death toll at over 10,000.

In its recommendations, the group calls on the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, but in remarks to the press Monday, France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said there was still no agreement on such a referral.

"[I]t is very clear that we are very much in favor of referring Syria to the ICC. The problem is that it will have to be part of a global agreement of the Council and for the moment we have not yet reached this point," said Araud.

Russia, which has military and economic interests in Syria, has joined China in consistently blocking Security Council resolutions on Syria that call for robust action, preferring instead to back a ceasefire and political mediation led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that has yet to deliver lasting results.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Human Rights Watch Cites Abusive Treatment of Afghan Women

Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A new report by the Human Rights Watch alleges that women in Afghanistan are still treated as second-class citizens even under the guise of a democratic government.

In a statement, the group's executive director Kenneth Roth said, "It is shocking that ten years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage."

For instance, a woman attempting to end a marriage to an abusive husband can be convicted of a "morals crime" and sentenced to as many as 15 years in jail.

The 120-page report based on interviews with women held in Afghan prisons describes females being beaten nearly to death by their husbands and forced to take spouses at an age when they are still considered children.

Other women said they were forced into prostitution -- including some girls as young as 14 -- then arrested and thrown into prison.

Human Rights Watch expressed concerns that if Afghan President Hamid Karzai negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban, what little progress women have made in Afghanistan will be rolled back if the country returns to a strict adherence of Sharia law.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rights Group Claims Iraq Returning to Days of Saddam Hussein

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq nearly nine years ago, the country under Saddam Hussein was considered a police state where free speech was rare, anti-government protests were virtually non-existent and imprisoned political prisoners faced torture and death.

Now, Human Rights Watch claims that Iraq is sliding back that way again.

In fact, the New York-based human rights group says that the Obama administration, in its haste to extricate itself from the long war, "left behind a budding police state."

The accusation of Iraq becoming an autocratic regime is found in Human Rights Watch's annual report in which it alleges the government regularly intimidates activists, tortures detainees, and harasses journalists.


Iraqi researcher Samer Muscati, who contributed to the report, maintains that "Iraqis are quickly losing ground on the most basic of rights, including the right to free speech and assembly.  Nowadays, every time someone attends a peaceful protest, they put themselves at risk of attack and abuse by security forces or their proxies."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Human Rights Group Claims Nearly 300 Killed in Egyptian Protests

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The number of people killed in Egypt since anti-government protests started two weeks ago has been grossly under-reported, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

While the media has mainly focused on the events in Cairo, Human Rights Watch claims that 297 people have died around the country as the result of violence that occurred between opposition forces and those seeking to keep President Hosni Mubarak in power.

The group says its figures are based on visits to hospitals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez since protesters took to the streets to demand Mubarak's ouster.  One researcher said he expected that the death toll will rise.

Media reports about fatalities resulting from clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak forces have been sketchy at best, while the Egyptian Health Ministry has not released any official casualty numbers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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