January 19, 2017
Photo courtesy of Andres Musta @flickr.com
On 12 January 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report on global human rights violations in 2016 and on the dangers the world will, consequently, be facing in 2017. For this timeframe, HRW shines its spotlight on the global rise of authoritarian populism and the concomitant toughening and broadening of anti-terrorism legislation around the world, which endangered throughout 2016 – and must be expected to keep challenging in 2017 – the very foundations of human rights law and the personal dignity inherent in every human being just as much as the despicable extremist attacks, to which they are a direct reaction. Nonetheless, HRW does not neglect to emphasize in its country reports the persisting human rights abuses directed against indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities around the world.
According to the World Report’s emphasis, the most egregious human rights violations against indigenous populations in 2016 can be seen in the crackdowns on Oromo in Ethiopia, the lingering human rights crisis of Tatars in Crimea as well as the unchanged Chinese policies of oppression in East Turkestan and Tibet.
HRW opens its country report on Ethiopia with a description of the unprecedentedly violent and deadly crackdowns by state security forces on peaceful Oromo protests, which were followed by the imposition of a “draconian and far-reaching” six-month state of emergency in October 2016, which has increased the vulnerability of the politically disenfranchised ethnic groups, such as the Ogaden and the Oromo, to unconstitutional acts, like arbitrary arrest, torture and severe restrictions on public gatherings.
The World Report’s section on Russia stresses the dismal situation of Crimean Tatars under Russia’s continued occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, stating that Russia’s actions had “created a human rights crisis” in Crimea, giving the especially worrying example of Mr Ilmi Umerov, former member of the Tatar’s political representation – the since April 2016 banned Mejlis - who had been for his political views by court order forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital over three weeks in September 2016. Russia’s latest anti-terrorism laws also give reason for concern, according to the human rights organisation, granting the authorities powers to interfere with day-to-day religious practices.
The Chinese oppression of its Uyghur minority also features highly in the World Report. HRW denounces the continued life imprisonment “on baseless charges of separatism” of the internationally respected Uyghur intellectual Prof Ilham Tohti, who has been awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals human rights award in 2016 and who thanks to UNPO’s efforts was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize. In regard to the situation of ethnic Tibetans in China, HRW is not expecting China’s “policies of heavy-handed governance and social control” to change, especially pointing out the continuing demolition of the Larung Gar monastic complex and forced evictions of Buddhist nuns and monks that began in July 2016.
In Iran, cultural and political discrimination continues against the Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Ahwazi and Baloch ethnic groups. The report names the internationally condemned mass hanging of 20 Iranian Kurds who had been charged with trumped-up terrorism charges in August 2016 as an especially gruesome example. The report’s section on Iraq principally deals with war crimes committed by fighters of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and government forces, also focusing on the continuing plight of the Yazidi women freed from IS and women’s rights in general. The fate of the Christian and Turkmen minorities of Iraq is, however, not being touched.
While addressing the application of the death penalty and inserting a short paragraph on religious minorities in Pakistan, there is no mention of ethnic minorities and the indigenous populations of Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan – a disputed area of 72,000 km² wedged between China, Pakistan and India – or the persisting problem of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan and Sindh.
The report, however, emphasizes the threat for Brazil’s indigenous populations that emanates from, sadly, often bloody land rights disputes with small farmers, stating that “39 people involved in land conflicts died violently from January to August 2016”. UNPO is closely following this situation, which it carefully analysed during the recent fact-finding mission in December 2016. Violence against ethnic and religious minorities has also been on the rise in Bangladesh, where the Buddhist and Hindu populations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts “are at risk of forced displacement”, as the government keeps stubbornly ignoring many of its obligations arising from the 1997 Peace Accords with the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Indonesian Government is being criticised for its persisting imprisonment of West Papuan indigenous activists, while Vietnamese authorities continue to harass with impunity Khmer Krom Buddhist monks and human rights activists.
UNPO welcomes HRW’s comprehensive exposure of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples and minorities from around the world. Such naming and shaming is instrumental to UNPO’s efforts at targeted measures to encourage nations worldwide to improve their human rights record. UNPO, however, urges the international community not to overlook the gross human rights violations that Pakistani security forces and intelligence services keep committing under complete impunity against their own people and even against the multi-ethnic indigenous population of Gilgit-Baltistan – a region over which Pakistan does not even have jurisdiction.