NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation)—The continuing bloody conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, democracies under pressure and abuse of human rights in the name of national security emerged as major themes in Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014.
The group’s 23rd annual review of the status of human rights around the globe, the 667-page report chronicles major issues and developments in more than 90 countries. The report also zeroed in on setbacks and progress in areas including the rights of gays, women and workers and the status of refugees and migrants.
Here are some key points on those issues:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights:
- In Russia, the government of President Vladimir Putin has cracked down on LGBT people, making public discussion of homosexuality or any “homosexual propaganda” a punishable offence, ostensibly in an effort to protect children.
- In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill criminalising same-sex marriages and civil unions, public displays of same-sex relationships and membership in gay organisations. Violators are subject to prosecution with prison sentences of up to 14 years for those who enter into marriages or unions and up to 10 years for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who publicly display same-sex relationships or join gay clubs or other organisations. HRW said the new law has “wide-ranging effects on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to dignity, personal liberty, freedom of speech, association and assembly, and freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion.”
- Uganda passed a law earlier last year which establishes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts. In January 2014, President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign the bill into law but condemned homosexuals as “abnormal” and suggested that some lesbians may have been victims of “sexual starvation”;
- Tunisia’s draft constitution removed a provision referring to the “complementary” role of women, a term that had been criticized as undermining gender equality.
- China eased the conditions under which some Chinese couples can have a second child.
- Afghanistan has been rolling back gains in women’s rights, by measures including a weakening of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Signs of these setbacks include: A call by Abdul Rahman Hotak, a new AIHRC commissioner, to repeal the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW); a decision by parliament to reduce the 25 percent of seats set aside for women on Afghanistan’s 34 provincial councils; a revision by the Ministry of Justice to the new criminal procedure code, adding a provision that bans family member testimony in criminal cases, making it extremely difficult to prosecute domestic violence and child and forced marriage; and the early release from prison of the parents-in-law of 13-year-old Sahar Gul, whom they had starved and tortured for months. They served one year of a 10-year sentence.
- In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura council for the first time in January; the Ministry of Justice granted the first lawyer-trainee licence to a woman, and girls in private schools were permitted to take part in sports. In August, a new law criminalized domestic abuse for the first time. But women are still subject to male guardianship and cannot be licensed to drive cars.
- In South Sudan, laws on marriage, separation, divorce and related matters require urgent reform, as almost half of South Sudanese girls between 15 and 19 are married, some as young as 12. Marital rape is also still not recognised as a criminal offense.
- In Egypt, there is no law criminalising domestic violence specifically. Other forms of violence against women, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, continue to take place in some areas, despite laws prohibiting them. Personal status laws in Egypt continue to discriminate against women in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Drafters of the 2013 constitution did not include a provision ensuring equality between men and women.
- In Libya, the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on polygamy, enabling a man to marry up to four wives without the prior consent of his first wife.
- In Canada, which has a global reputation as a defender of human rights at home and abroad, indigenous women and girls continue to be victims of violence and abuse, HRW said. A committee established in February to assess the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and to put forward solutions to address the problem, has made little progress and was criticized by some missing women’s advocates. The federal government continues to reject calls for a national inquiry. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented 582 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada as of March 2010, the rights group said.
Refugees and migrants:
- In Afghanistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees documented an increase of over 106,000 internally displaced people in the first six months of 2013, bringing the total to over 583,000, mainly due to armed conflict and diminished security.
- In Syria, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 4.25 million Syrians are internally displaced. As of November 2013, the UNHCR estimated that 2.23 million Syrians had registered or were pending registration as refugees, the majority of them in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Of those registered, UNHCR reported that over 75 percent are women and children.
- The International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention, which took effect in September, entitles domestic workers to protection from abuse and harassment as well as key labour rights including a weekly day off, limits on work hours and a minimum wage.
- A treaty, adopted in October, requires governments to eliminate the most dangerous uses of mercury in mining and promote alternative forms of gold processing that do not require mercury, which is toxic and harmful to children.
(Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in London)
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