Amnesty Reports

Annual Report 2022/23

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Annual Report 2022/23

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

Amnesty International’s mission is to conduct research and take action to prevent and end grave abuses of all human rights – civil, political, social, cultural and economic. From freedom of expression and association to physical and mental integrity, from protection from discrimination to the right to housing – these rights are indivisible.

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  1. First published in 2016 by Amnesty International Ltd
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    United Kingdom
  2. © Amnesty International 2016 Index: POL 10/2552/2016 ISBN: 978-0-86210-492-4
  3. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
  4. Original language: English
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  7. This report documents Amnesty International’s work and concerns through 2015.
  8. The absence of an entry in this report on a particular country or territory does not imply that no human rights violations of concern to Amnesty International have taken place there during the year. Nor is the length of a country entry any basis for a comparison of the extent and depth of Amnesty International’s concerns in a country.

Amnesty


International


Report 2015/16

The state of the world’s human rights

Contents
Annual Report 2022/23

Abbreviations

ASEAN

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

AU

African Union

CEDAW

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

CEDAW Committee

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

CERD

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

CERD Committee

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

CIA

US Central Intelligence Agency

COVID-19

Coronavirus disease-19

ECOWAS

Economic Community of West African States

EU

European Union

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

European Convention on Human Rights

(European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

ICC

International Criminal Court

ICCPR

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

ICESCR

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

ICRC

International Committee of the Red Cross

ILO

International Labour Organization

International Convention against enforced disappearance

International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

LGBTI

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex

NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NGO

Non-governmental organization

OAS

Organization of American States

OCHA

United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs

OHCHR

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

OSCE

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

PPE

Personal protective equipment

UK

United Kingdom

UN

United Nations

UN Convention against Torture

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

UN Refugee Convention

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

UN Special Rapporteur on racism

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

UN Special Rapporteur on torture

Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women

Special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF

United Nations Children’s Fund

UPR

UN Universal Periodic Review

USA

United States of America

WHO

World Health Organization

Preface

The Amnesty International Report 2015/16 documents the state of the world’s human rights during 2015.

The foreword, five regional overviews and a survey of 160 countries and territories highlight the suffering endured by many, be it through conflict, displacement, discrimination or repression. The Report also highlights the strength and extent of the human rights movement, and surveys the progress made in the safeguarding and securing of human rights.

While every attempt is made to ensure accuracy, information may be subject to change without notice.

Amnesty

International

Report 2015/16

Foreward and Regional Overviews

Africa Regional Overview

With the African Union (AU) declaring 2016 as the Year of Human Rights in Africa, many across the continent and beyond hoped that Africa’s leaders, regional institutions and the international community would show the determination and political will to make significant headway in addressing entrenched human rights challenges.

Such hopes were not without foundation. As conflict, political instability, authoritarian regimes, poverty and humanitarian disasters continued to deny many their rights, security and dignity, Africa was also presented with real opportunities. Social and economic developments were evident in many countries and relatively peaceful political transitions were achieved in others. The adoption of historic commitments regionally and globally – including the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – offered the potential to realize the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) and international human rights instruments.

Nevertheless, throughout 2015, serious violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law in the context of conflicts remained a major challenge. Protracted conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia caused thousands of civilian deaths and left millions living in fear and insecurity. Burundi faced a political crisis and escalating violence.

In west, central and east Africa – including in Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Somalia – armed groups such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram perpetrated constant violence, with tens of thousands of civilians killed, thousands abducted and millions forced to live in fear and insecurity, both within and outside conflicts.

Many governments responded to these security threats with disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights. Military and security operations in Nigeria and Cameroon were marked by mass arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, extrajudicial executions, and torture and other ill-treatment. Similar patterns of human rights violations were observed in Niger and Chad.

Impunity remained a key cause and driver of conflicts and instability. Despite some progress, there was little or no accountability for crimes under international law committed by security forces and armed groups in countries as disparate as Cameroon, CAR, DRC, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Internationally, some states and the AU also continued their political efforts to undermine the independence of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to ensure immunity from prosecution for serving heads of state, even when accused of crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law. South Africa failed to arrest and surrender Sudan’s President al-Bashir to the ICC in June, in a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of victims killed during the Darfur conflict.

Many civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents operated in an increasingly hostile environment, with laws aimed at restricting civic space in the name of national security, counter-terrorism, public order and regulation of NGOs and media. Civic space remained closed in countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia and The Gambia and deteriorated in others, with freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly increasingly restricted. Peaceful assemblies were disrupted with brutal and excessive force, including in Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, the Republic of Congo, DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, excessive force was used as a “clean- up” operation to remove undocumented immigrants.

Elections and political transitions triggered widespread violations and repression. Many countries saw bans on protests, attacks on demonstrators by security forces, and arbitrary arrests and harassment of political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists.

The humanitarian crisis endured by the region continued as the Ebola epidemic that spread across West Africa in 2014 continued to claim lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Yet there were signs of hope and progress. Social and economic developments continued to unfold in many countries and offered real optimism in addressing some of the structural causes of poverty, including inequality, climate change, conflict and accountability deficits. Several states achieved some of the UN Millennium Development Goals and Africa played a critical role in the adoption of the SDGs.

Some measures taken by the AU Peace and Security Council, as well as sub-regional bodies, to address violent conflicts in the region demonstrated a growing move from indifference to engagement. Despite capacity limitations, a lack of coherent approaches and concerns about the adequacy of measures to address human rights violations and impunity, the AU and regional bodies took notable steps – from mediation to peacekeeping – in response to crises and conflicts.

Several regional human rights norms and standards were also developed. In November, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) adopted a General Comment on Article 4 (right to life) of the African Charter. The AU Special Technical Committee on Legal Affairs (STC) also considered and approved the Draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, initially developed by the African Commission. Regrettably, the STC declined to approve the Draft Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa.

More countries also opened up their human rights records for review. Periodic reports on implementation of the African Charter were submitted by Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

There were reforms and positive measures in several countries. In Mauritania, a new law defined torture and slavery as a crime against humanity and banned secret detention. Sierra Leone ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. There were signs of improvement in Swaziland – including the release of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners – although repressive legislation continued to be used to suppress dissent.

A watershed moment for international justice took place in Senegal when the trial against former Chadian President Hissène Habré opened in July – the first time a court in one African state had tried the former leader of another.

Vietnam

  • Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
  • Head of state and government: Nguyễn Xuân Phúc (replaced Nguyễn Phú Trọng in April)

A severe crackdown on both online and offline dissent occurred during the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV) National Conference and national elections. Independent journalists, publishers and other government critics were arrested and charged under repressive laws. Human rights defenders were subjected to widespread harassment, unlawful digital surveillance, arbitrary arrest and politically motivated prosecution. Torture and other ill- treatment continued to be reported. Harsh lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable and authorities meted out harsh penalties against those who violated Covid-19 regulations. Informal workers faced acute pandemic-related hardship due to inadequate social assistance, and young LGBTI people were at heighted risk of discrimination.

Background

US Vice-President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala in June and agreed with President Giammattei to address the root causes of migration, including inequality, corruption and the flawed rule of law. In July, the dismissal of the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity sparked nationwide protests against corruption, economic inequality and the government’s response to Covid-19.

Impunity

Those working in the administration of justice with key roles in the fight against impunity in cases of serious human rights violations and corruption were removed from or prevented from taking up their posts and faced threats, criminal prosecution and smear campaigns.11“Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

In April, magistrate Gloria Porras, a prominent supporter of human rights and anti-corruption efforts in recent years, who had been re-elected to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, left the country after Congress blocked her swearing-in ceremony and refused to let her take up the appointment.

In June, four judges from high-risk criminal courts who had been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reported to the Public Prosecutor’s Office that they were the targets of harassment and threats. One month later, the Attorney General dismissed Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, who fled the country amid concerns over his safety. In October, she also transferred the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office on Human Rights, who had helped bring the former military president Efraín Ríos Montt to justice.

Human rights defenders and excessive use of force

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) recorded 839 attacks against human rights defenders between January and November. Guatemala once again had the fourth highest rate of killings worldwide of land and environmental defenders per capita; 13 were killed in 2020, according to the NGO Global Witness.

Despite this context, by the end of the year Guatemala had yet to ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), which includes provisions for the protection of environmental human rights defenders.

In May, the new members of the Constitutional Court rejected legal challenges filed by civil society organizations against the controversial NGO Law and it entered into force on 21 June. At least three appeals were subsequently filed before the Constitutional Court in relation to elements of the law that could allow for serious violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association, including vaguely worded clauses that could lead to NGOs being shut down or targeted in other ways. The appeals were pending at the end of the year.

Court hearings continued in the case of prisoner of conscience Bernardo Caal Xol, imprisoned since January 2018 for defending the rights of Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities affected by the construction of the OXEC hydroelectric dam project.22“Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July In August, the Supreme Court rejected a cassation appeal for his release presented by his lawyers. In October, police agents violently repressed Q’eqchi’ Maya people who had been peacefully protesting for three weeks against a mining company operating in their territory in El Estor, as well as demonstrators and journalists. Following the incident, the President decreed a state of emergency in the municipality.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Guatemalans continued to flee violence, poverty, inequality and climate change.

Hundreds of Guatemalans were deported and pushed back by Mexican authorities, together with other people from Central America and Haiti, to remote areas at the border where they were left without proper assistance.

Security forces beat and used tear gas against a caravan of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country in January, on the pretext of enforcing Covid-19 protocols.33“Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March

Right to health

Guatemala had the lowest percentage of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Latin America, at just 25.7%, amid corruption allegations in connection with the purchase of vaccines and the handling of the pandemic.

Although a detailed national vaccination plan was published, it did not include a protocol for Indigenous peoples.

Violence against women and girls

In March, after two decades of struggle for justice by the family of María Isabel Veliz Franco, a 15-year-old girl killed in 2001 whose body showed signs of sexual violence, a national court sentenced a man to 30 years’ imprisonment for her murder. Guatemala had been condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 for failing to diligently investigate her death and prevent violations of her rights.

Sexual and reproductive rights

In December, Congress started discussing a legislative initiative (5940) which, if passed, would violate the rights of transgender children and adolescents.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In May, the security forces arrested 11 retired military and police officers suspected of involvement in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other crimes under international law and human rights violations against at least 183 people considered political opponents between 1983 and 1985 in the case known as “Diario Militar”. At least eight were detained awaiting trial at the end of the year.

  1. “Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

  2. “Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July

  3. “Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March

Afghanistan

  • Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  • Head of state and government: Mohammad Hassan Akhund (replaced Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in September)

Parties to the conflict in Afghanistan continued to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, and other serious human rights violations and abuses with impunity. Indiscriminate and targeted killings reached record levels. Human rights defenders, women activists, journalists, health and humanitarian workers, and religious and ethnic minorities were among those targeted by the Taliban and non-state actors. A wave of reprisal killings was unleashed during the Taliban takeover of the country. Thousands of people, predominantly Shia Hazaras, were forcibly evicted. The limited progress made towards improving women’s rights was sharply reversed under Taliban rule. Rights to freedom of assembly and expression were drastically curtailed by the Taliban. Access to health care, already severely compromised by the pandemic, was further undermined by the suspension of international aid.

Background

The conflict in Afghanistan took a dramatic turn with the withdrawal of all international troops, the collapse of the government, and the takeover of the country by Taliban forces.

On 14 April, US President Biden announced that remaining US troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn by 11 September. A subsequent Taliban military offensive overran the provinces and reached the capital, Kabul, on 15 August, causing the government to collapse and President Ghani to flee the country. In early September, the Taliban announced an interim government.

An evacuation operation accompanied the final withdrawal of US and NATO forces, which was brought forward to 31 August in the face of Taliban gains. Some 123,000 people were airlifted in chaotic conditions from Kabul airport, including thousands of Afghan nationals at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.

The already precarious humanitarian situation deteriorated further in the second half of the year due to the conflict, drought, the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic crisis exacerbated by the suspension of foreign aid, the freezing of government assets, and international sanctions on the Taliban. In December, the UN warned that some 23 million people faced acute food insecurity and hunger, including more than 3 million children at risk of death from severe malnutrition.

Indiscriminate attacks and unlawful killings

Government forces under the leadership of President Ghani, as well as non-state actors, carried out indiscriminate attacks with improvised explosive devices and air strikes, killing and injuring thousands of civilians. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), civilian casualties reached record levels in the first half of the year, sharply increasing in May as international military forces began to withdraw. By June, 5,183 civilian deaths or injuries had been recorded, including 2,409 women and children. More than two-thirds (68%) were attributed to the Taliban and other non-state actors and 25% to Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and other pro-government forces. On 29 August, a US drone strike killed 10 members of one family in Kabul, including seven children. The US Department of Defense later admitted acting in error and offered financial compensation to the victims’ relatives.

Non-state groups deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects throughout the year. A bomb attack on Sayed-ul-Shuhada High School in West Kabul on 8 May killed or injured more than 230 people, nearly all girls.14“Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June On 26 August, a suicide attack outside Kabul airport carried out by the armed group Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-K) resulted in at least 380 casualties – mostly Afghans seeking evacuation. Three separate attacks took place in October on Eid Gah Mosque in Kabul and two Shia-Hazara mosques in the cities of Kandahar and Kunduz, reportedly killing dozens and injuring hundreds of others.

The Taliban and other armed actors were responsible for numerous targeted killings throughout the year, including of human rights defenders, women activists, humanitarian and health workers, journalists, former government officials and security force members. Religious and ethnic minorities were at particular risk.

During its offensive and following its takeover, the Taliban carried out reprisal and extrajudicial killings of people associated with the former administration, including members of the ANDSF. On 19 July, the Taliban abducted and killed two sons of former Kandahar provincial council member Fida Mohammad Afghan. Former police officers, particularly women, were also targeted. Also in July, Taliban fighters killed nine ethnic Hazara men in Mundarakht village in Malistan district, Ghazni province.25“Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 JulyOn 30 August, in Kahor village in Khidir district, Daykundi province, the Taliban extrajudicially executed nine ANDSF members after they had surrendered, and killed two civilians, including a 17-year-old girl, as they attempted to flee the village. All were ethnic Hazaras. On 4 September, Banu Negar, a former member of the police force in Ghor province, was beaten and shot dead by Taliban fighters in front of her children. A further 100 former members of the security forces were killed or forcibly disappeared by the Taliban between mid-August and the end of December.

Forced displacement and evictions

Between January and December, some 682,031 people were displaced by fighting, adding to the 4 million already displaced by conflict and natural disasters.

The Taliban forcibly evicted thousands of people from their homes and land in Daykundi and Helmand provinces and also threatened to evict residents of Balkh, Kandahar, Kunduz and Uruzgan provinces. Evictions particularly targeted Hazara communities, as well as people associated with the former government. In June, the Taliban ordered Tajik residents of Bagh-e Sherkat in Kunduz province to leave the town in apparent retaliation for their support of President Ghani’s government. In late September, more than 740 Hazara families were forcibly evicted from their homes and land in Kindir and Tagabdar villages in Gizab district, Daykundi province.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The Taliban takeover increased the number of Afghan refugees entering neighbouring countries. After evacuations from Kabul airport were stopped, thousands of desperate Afghans sought land routes to Pakistan and Iran. Tens of thousands crossed into Pakistan before it closed its borders on 2 September to most Afghans. Only the Torkham crossing point was open to those holding gate passes. In November, the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that 4,000-5,000 Afghans were crossing the border to Iran every day.

The right of Afghans, including those at risk of reprisals, to seek asylum in third countries was compromised by Taliban-imposed restrictions on departures, including often insurmountable challenges in obtaining passports and visas. There were fears that border restrictions by neighbouring countries would force Afghans to make irregular journeys using smugglers, placing them at further risk of human rights abuses.

Women’s and girls’ rights

Prior to the Taliban takeover, women and girls continued to experience gender-based discrimination and violence. After the Taliban takeover, they lost many of their fundamental human rights. Despite reassurances from the Taliban that women’s rights would be respected, the limited progress made in the previous two decades was quickly reversed.

Women’s participation in government and the right to work

Women were severely under-represented in the final round of the failed peace talks, with just four women in the government delegation and none in the Taliban delegation.36“Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March Four cabinet posts were held by women under President Ghani’s administration; women were excluded altogether from the Taliban’s interim government. Shortly after coming to power, the Taliban disbanded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and its provincial offices.

In August, a Taliban spokesman told reporters that women should refrain from attending work until “proper systems” were put in place to “ensure their safety”. In September, women employed in government ministries were told to stay at home while their male colleagues resumed work. There were reports of women being barred from their workplaces or sent home in different parts of the country – with the exception of women working in the passport office, airport and health sector. In some cases, women were reportedly escorted home from work by Taliban fighters and told that they would be replaced by their male relatives.47The Fate of Thousands Hanging in the Balance: Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban, (Index: ASA 11/4727/2021), 21 September

Women lawyers, judges and prosecutors were effectively dismissed from their jobs and forced into hiding. They faced reprisals from men whom they had convicted and imprisoned for domestic and other gender-based violence, who were subsequently freed from prison by the Taliban. There were reports of ex-prisoners and Taliban fighters ransacking the homes of female judges.

Right to education

On taking power, Taliban leaders announced that a “safe learning environment” was required before women and girls could return to education. Boys were permitted to resume school in mid-September, but the situation for girls remained unclear. At the end of the year, except in Kunduz, Balkh and Sar-e Pul provinces, the majority of secondary schools remained closed to girls. Intimidation and harassment of teachers and pupils led to low attendance rates, particularly among girls, even where schools and other education facilities were open.58Afghanistan: Taliban must allow girls to return to school immediately – new testimony”, 13 October

Sexual and gender-based violence

Violence against women and girls remained widespread but chronically underreported. In the vast majority of cases, no action was taken against perpetrators. Between January and June, the MoWA registered 1,518 cases of violence against women, including 33 murders. Beatings, harassment, forced prostitution, deprivation of alimony, and forced and early marriages remained the main manifestations of violence against women. There was no government data available for the second half of the year.

Violence against women escalated further from August when women’s legal and other support mechanisms began shutting down – in particular when women’s shelters closed. The Taliban’s ending of institutional and legal support for women left women at risk of further violence, and they feared the consequences of reporting incidents.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders faced intimidation, harassment, threats, violence and targeted killings. A spike in attacks that began in late 2020 continued into 2021. According to the Afghan Human Rights Defenders Committee, at least 17 human rights defenders were killed between September 2020 and May 2021, while hundreds more received threats.

From late August, the Taliban occupied all 14 offices of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, forcing its staff to flee the country or go into hiding. Door-to-door searches by Taliban fighters looking for human rights defenders and journalists were reported, and NGO workers and their families were beaten.

LGBTI people’s rights

On 29 October, the Taliban spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance said that LGBTI rights would not be recognized under sharia law. Afghanistan’s Penal Code continued to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The Taliban forcibly dispersed peaceful protests across Afghanistan, including using gunfire, electroshock weapons and tear gas, and beat and lashed protesters with whips and cables. On 4 September, a protest in Kabul involving around 100 women demanding the inclusion of women in the new government and respect for women’s rights was dispersed by Taliban special forces, reportedly with tear gas and electroshock weapons. Women protesters were beaten. On 7 September, the Taliban shot and killed Omid Sharifi, a civil society activist, and Bashir Ahmad Bayat, a schoolteacher, as they protested against the Taliban in Herat province. Eight other protesters were injured. On 8 September, the Taliban’s Ministry of the Interior issued an order banning all demonstrations and gatherings “until a policy of demonstration is codified”.

Despite assurances that it would respect freedom of expression, the Taliban severely curtailed media freedom. Journalists were detained and beaten and had equipment confiscated, particularly when covering protests. Media workers, particularly women, were intimidated, threatened and harassed, forcing many to go into hiding or leave the country. House-to-house searches for journalists were conducted, particularly those working for western media outlets. On 20 August, Taliban members broke into the home of a journalist working for the German media outlet Deutsche Welle. Unable to find him, they killed one of his relatives and injured another. By late October, more than 200 media outlets had closed. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee announced that at least 12 journalists had been killed and 230 assaulted in the 12 months to November 2021.

Right to health

The already weak health sector was further damaged in August by the suspension of international aid to the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition Project for Afghanistan (Sehatmandi). As of November, 3,000 health clinics had closed due to lack of funding. The multi-donor project was the main source of support for quality health care, nutrition and family planning services across Afghanistan. In September, the WHO warned of a rapid decline in public health conditions, including escalating rates of measles, diarrhoea and polio in children.

Lack of emergency preparedness and the poor state of public health infrastructure meant that Afghanistan was already ill-equipped to deal with a mid-year surge in Covid-19 cases. Internally displaced people living in overcrowded conditions with insufficient access to water, sanitation and health facilities were at particular risk.69Afghanistan: Oxygen and Vaccines Urgently Needed as Covid-19 Infections Surge”, 11 June As of 15 November there had been at least 7,293 deaths from Covid-19. About 7% of the population were vaccinated.

Heath workers and health facilities came under attack throughout the year. Nine polio vaccinators were shot and killed in Nangarhar province in the first six months of the year.710Afghanistan: Despicable killing of female polio vaccine workers must be investigated”, 30 MarchIn October, the Taliban committed to supporting the resumption of a nationwide polio vaccination campaign and to permit the involvement of women frontline workers. They also committed to provide security and safety for all frontline health workers.

Impunity

On 27 September the Prosecutor of the ICC announced plans to resume investigations into crimes committed in Afghanistan, but focused only on those crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and IS-K. The decision to “deprioritize” investigations into possible war crimes committed by the National Directorate of Security, ANDSF, US armed forces and the US Central Intelligence Agency risked further entrenching impunity and undermining the legitimacy of the ICC.811Afghanistan: ICC Prosecutor’s Statement on Afghanistan Jeopardises his Office’s Legitimacy and Future (Index: IOR 53/4842/2021), 5 October

  1. Afghanistan: Unspeakable killings of civilians must prompt end to impunity”, 10 May

  2. Afghanistan: Taliban responsible for brutal massacre of Hazara men – new investigation”, 19 August

  3. Afghanistan: Unravelling of women’s and girls’ rights looms as peace talks falter”, 24 May

  4. The Fate of Thousands Hanging in the Balance: Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban, (Index: ASA 11/4727/2021), 21 September

  5. Afghanistan: Taliban must allow girls to return to school immediately – new testimony”, 13 October

  6. Afghanistan: Oxygen and Vaccines Urgently Needed as Covid-19 Infections Surge”, 11 June

  7. Afghanistan: Despicable killing of female polio vaccine workers must be investigated”, 30 March

  8. Afghanistan: ICC Prosecutor’s Statement on Afghanistan Jeopardises his Office’s Legitimacy and Future (Index: IOR 53/4842/2021), 5 October

Brazil

  • Federative Republic of Brazil
  • Head of state and government: Jair Messias Bolsonaro

Brazil continued to experience an extended period of instability and crisis. The federal government lacked the commitment to coordinate effective responses in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, impacting people’s human rights. Those from groups who have historically experienced discrimination were disproportionately affected by the health emergency, which exacerbated the economic and social crisis, making their living conditions more precarious. President Jair Bolsonaro continued to promote initiatives contrary to the needs of most of the population and harmful to the environment and climate justice. His statements, which often vilified human rights defenders and activists, also undermined the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary.

Background

In April, the Senate established the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to investigate the actions and omissions of the Brazilian government in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. The investigation of the mismanagement of the health crisis by Jair Bolsonaro’s administration included instances of corruption, the collapse of the public and private health systems, negligence regarding vaccines and the damage caused by the lack of effective public policies to address the social crisis, which deepened in 2021.

Economic and social rights

The Covid-19 pandemic continued to entrench structural and persistent inequalities and to exacerbate the economic, political, social and public health crises in the country. The government did not ensure the right to health or sufficient and adequate public policies for the social protection of the population, especially those belonging to groups that have historically faced discrimination, such as the Black population, Indigenous peoples, Quilombola communities, women, LGBTI people and those living in favelas and disadvantaged neighbourhoods on the outskirts of cities.

Right to health

As of December, more than 615,000 people had died of Covid-19. According to the Alerta group, a coalition of NGOs, 120,000 deaths could have been avoided by March 2021 if the government had not repeatedly ignored scientific evidence and failed to coordinate strategies to address the crisis.112“Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

Testing and monitoring of infection rates, medicines and hospital supplies, hospital beds and intensive care units were inadequate and insufficient, especially in public health facilities. As a result of the lack of oxygen in hospitals, people died in the state of Amazonas in January.213“Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July The shortage of the medication necessary for the intubation of the most severely ill subjected patients, their families and healthcare professionals to stress and suffering.

According to the Alerta group, the government’s neglect of socioeconomic and territorial inequalities, which in Brazil are related to racial inequalities, meant that Black people and those living in poverty experienced the highest death rates. They were particularly affected by the shortage of intensive care beds in public facilities and many died in pre-hospital units waiting for admission to specialist care units.

Investigations undertaken by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry suggested that government actions during Covid-19 vaccine negotiations and implementation of the vaccine programme lacked coordination, efficiency, and commitment to follow scientific evidence. The spread of disinformation about vaccines and the authorities’ defence of drugs that were proven to be ineffective violated the right to accurate public health information. The government’s negligence in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and with the COVAX Facility initiative delayed the implementation of an effective vaccination plan.

In addition to vaccine shortages, the lack of coordination between national and state-level planning led to delays and interruptions in the vaccination roll-out throughout the year, as well as inconsistencies in schedules, deployments of vaccines and consensus on the coverage of priority groups. By December, 75% and 66% of Brazilians were partially and fully vaccinated, respectively.

Right to food

According to a study by the Brazilian Network of Research on Sovereignty and Nutritional Security, an independent national research network, food insecurity had increased by 54% in Brazil since 2018. More than half of the population did not have full and permanent access to food. Severe food insecurity, which refers to the situation of hunger, affected 19 million people in 2021, or 9% of the population. Among small family farmers and Quilombola, Indigenous and riverside communities, the proportion of households affected rose to 12%. Households headed by women and Black people suffered most from the lack of food.

Rights to housing, water and sanitation

A significant part of the population continued to live in precarious situations, lacking essential services. According to the Trata Brasil Institute, nearly 35 million people did not have access to clean water and 100 million had no sewage collection.

Those living in rural and traditional territories and disadvantaged neighbourhoods were most affected by the non-existent or insufficient sanitation infrastructure. A study by the NGO Criola found that the percentage of the Black population living in inadequate homes was significantly higher than that of the white population. In addition to the lack of basic sanitation, overcrowding was greater in Black homes. According to the Zero Eviction campaign, over 23,500 families were evicted from their homes between March 2020 and October 2021 during the pandemic. Following pressure from social mobilizations, in October Congress approved legislation that prohibited evictions throughout the country until 31 December 2021.

Rights to work and social assistance

The federal government used a false dichotomy between the defence of the economy and the defence of life to justify its failure to promote measures to prevent infection among workers who were unable to work remotely during the pandemic.

Emergency aid was discontinued during the first three months of 2021 and subsequently reintroduced at a lower rate and for a more restricted group of people. This led to accelerated impoverishment of the population impacted by the economic and social crises aggravated by the pandemic. A study by the University of São Paulo found that in 2021, with the reduction in emergency aid, more people began to live in poverty. Black women were the most affected: 38% and 12.3% were living in poverty or extreme poverty, respectively.

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics indicated that, in the first quarter of 2021, unemployment reached its highest rate since 2012 (14.7%). The proportion of Brazilians in the informal economy without income security or social protection reached 39.6% during the year.

Right to education

State education continued to be delivered remotely in much of Brazil until May 2021. Problems related to lack of access to the internet and the electronic equipment necessary to conduct remote activities were among the reasons for increased school dropout rates during 2021, especially among students in state education, which serves the most disadvantaged sections of the population.

All states started vaccinating school staff in June, as state schools were reopening. The infrastructure of many schools, however, did not ensure a safe return based on sanitary protocols. Water supply and access to basic sanitation and the internet were not a reality in all state schools in Brazil. In 2021, the National High School Exam, the main form of admission to higher education institutions, registered the lowest number of applicants in 13 years.

Freedom of expression

Throughout the pandemic, the state did not adequately guarantee the right to information for the population. Inaccurate or deliberately misleading public statements about Covid-19 prevention, treatments and vaccines sought to undermine scientific recommendations and dissenting voices, fuelling misinformation and reducing civic space.

Restrictions on civil society participation in public debate intensified because of the federal government’s hostile approach to the press, social movements, NGOs and other critical voices.

In 2021, the organization Human Rights Watch identified 176 accounts of journalists, Congress members, influencers, media outlets and NGOs, including Amnesty International Brazil, blocked on President Jair Bolsonaro’s social media.

Federal authorities promoted speeches and demonstrations that threatened the rule of law. On several occasions, such as the official celebration of Brazil’s Independence Day, President Jair Bolsonaro sought to undermine the Supreme Court and called into question the electoral system.

Excessive use of force

The logic and implementation of the “war on drugs” that has structured public security policies in Brazil for many years continued to fuel the cycle of violence and killings in the country.

In 2020, police killed 6,416 people. More than half of the victims were young Black men.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the suspension of police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in June 2020, a survey by the Study Group on New Ilegalisms found that deaths caused by law enforcement personnel increased by 185% in January and February 2021, compared to the first four months after the Court order. Police operations using heavy weaponry resulted in hours of intense shooting in the favelas and other marginalized neighbourhoods.

The excessive use of force also took the form of raids on homes, the destruction of belongings, sexual violence, psychological torture, restrictions on freedom of movement and the suspension of essential services, such as schools and health facilities.

Unlawful killings

On 6 May, a police operation in the Jacarezinho favela, Rio de Janeiro, resulted in the death of 27 residents and one police officer. The operation was launched based on photographs of alleged suspects on social media. Images and preliminary investigations pointed to summary executions and evidence tampering at the crime scenes. Investigations into the deaths had not been concluded by the end of the year.

On 8 June, Kathlen Romeu, who was four months pregnant, died after being shot during a Military Police operation in the community of Lins de Vasconcelos in northern Rio de Janeiro. The investigation into the circumstances of her death was continuing at the end of the year.

On 22 November, nine people were found dead in circumstances suggesting they had been summarily executed in the Complexo do Salgueiro favela, Rio de Janeiro. On 20 November, a policeman had been killed during a police operation and preliminary investigations indicated that the nine killings were an act of revenge. Investigations were continuing at the end of the year.

Impunity

In August, five police officers charged with the killings of 13 people almost three decades earlier in the 1994 massacre in the Nova Brasília favela, Rio de Janeiro, were acquitted for lack of evidence. In addition to the fact that it took 27 years for the case to be brought to trial, the result was considered inadequate by the victims and human rights organizations. The excessive and lethal use of force by the police was not promptly and effectively investigated in accordance with international standards. At the time of the killings, the police involved in the operation were absolved of responsibility before the proper investigations were carried out. The acquittal represented an example of the historical impunity that has perpetuated the cycle of violence and human rights violations by state agents, especially in favelas and disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In 2017, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Brazilian state for police violence in the Nova Brasília case.

Human rights defenders

The killings of city councillor and human rights defender Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes in March 2018 had yet to be resolved. The families and civil society continued to press for justice. In July 2021, the Rio de Janeiro prosecutors who had been in charge of the investigations since 2018 asked to be removed from their positions, raising concerns about the progress and outcomes of the investigation and the case. The two men charged with the killings remained in prison and no date had been set for a trial by the end of the year. Those behind the killings remained unidentified.

The NGO Global Witness reported that Brazil was the country with the fourth highest number of killings of environmental leaders and land rights defenders in the world. In January, activist and rural worker Fernando dos Santos Araújo was killed in the state of Pará. He was a survivor and one of the main witnesses of the Pau D’Arco massacre in May 2017 in which 10 land rights activists were killed by military and civil police officers.

In May, Lindolfo Kosmaski, a gender and sexual diversity activist from the Landless Workers Movement, was found shot dead in a burned-out car in the state of Paraná.

Right to a healthy environment

According to the NGO Imazon, in August the Brazilian Amazon had the highest deforestation rate for the month of August in 10 years. Between January and December, 10,362 km² of forest were cleared, 29% more than 2020.

Fires also increased in the Amazon region and other biodiversity-rich biomes as the Brazilian state continued to dismantle environmental protection agencies and mechanisms. The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity and Natural Resources Programme lost part of its funding and investment fell in the prevention and control of deforestation and fires in Brazilian biomes.

Attacks on the right to a healthy environment were also seen in legislative initiatives. The Chamber of Deputies approved Bill 3.729/2004. If approved by the Senate, this Bill will facilitate the issuing of environmental licences for exploration activities. Bill 2.633/2020 also progressed through the Chamber of Deputies and, if approved, could allow land tenure regularization for illegal occupations of public lands.

Rights of Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas and other traditional communities

The rights of Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas and other traditional communities were systematically violated. Deforestation and fires, often resulting from the illegal appropriation of land by the agribusiness, livestock, logging and mining sectors, impacted the rights to land and territory, to a healthy environment and to the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas and other traditional communities.

The latest data from the Pastoral Land Commission indicated that the number of conflicts in rural areas registered in 2020 was the highest since 1985. Land invasions, which took place despite legislation regulating territories and rights, increased by 102% between 2019 and 2020; 71% of the families affected were Indigenous. Between January and November 2021, 26 people were killed in the context of rural conflicts, a 30% increase over 2020; eight were Indigenous people.

In August, the National Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB) movement filed a complaint before the ICC against President Jair Bolsonaro for the crime of genocide. Also in August, 6,000 Indigenous people from 176 ethnic groups demonstrated in the country’s capital, Brasilia, to try to halt the anti-Indigenous agenda being pursued in the National Congress. They also reiterated their opposition to the “Time Framework” proposal, which was before the Supreme Court, and, if approved, could threaten the demarcation of Indigenous territories.

The government’s inadequate management of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to impact the rights to life and health of Indigenous peoples and Quilombola communities, who in 2020 had appealed to the Supreme Court for specialized and priority support from the state. Despite a decision in their favour from the Court, they continued to report being denied the support that would help them to cope with the pandemic in 2021. Covid-19 continued to spread among Indigenous peoples and Quilombola communities because of the authorities’ failure to establish sanitary barriers, to promote the removal of people who invaded their territories and to implement adequate health, monitoring and social assistance measures.

Indigenous peoples and Quilombola communities reported several shortcomings in the vaccination process, such as lack of information; institutional racism; discrimination against Indigenous people and Quilombolas who live in urban areas or outside officially designated territories; and lack of coordination between state and municipal planning and the National Immunization Plan.

LGBTI people’s rights

A lack of adequate assistance, social protection and public policies left LGBTI people even more at risk during the health crisis. The National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals reported that 80 transgender people were killed in Brazil in the first half of 2021 alone. In addition, physical attacks, threats, discrimination and social marginalization fuelled a cycle of violence that prevented LGBTI people from enjoying their rights in safety.

Women’s rights

Brazil accounted for 75% of maternal deaths due to Covid-19 worldwide. According to the Covid-19 Obstetric Observatory, as of May, maternal deaths of Black women were 77% higher compared to those of white women.

According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, the number of rapes in the first six months of 2021 was 8.3% higher than in the same period in 2020. Between January and June 2021, 666 women were the victims of femicide, the highest number since records began in 2017.

  1. “Brazil: 1,000 days of Bolsonaro and Brazil’s grave human rights crisis”, 20 October

  2. Brazil: Lack of Oxygen to Treat Patients in Manaus (Index: AMR 19/3539/2021), 15 January

Guatemala

  • Republic of Guatemala
  • Head of state and government: Alejandro Giammattei Falla

Increased criminalization was used as a strategy to intimidate those working in the administration of justice. A law that threatens the right to defend human rights entered into force. Guatemala recorded the lowest percentage of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Latin America amid corruption allegations.

Background

US Vice-President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala in June and agreed with President Giammattei to address the root causes of migration, including inequality, corruption and the flawed rule of law. In July, the dismissal of the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity sparked nationwide protests against corruption, economic inequality and the government’s response to Covid-19.

Impunity

Those working in the administration of justice with key roles in the fight against impunity in cases of serious human rights violations and corruption were removed from or prevented from taking up their posts and faced threats, criminal prosecution and smear campaigns.114“Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

In April, magistrate Gloria Porras, a prominent supporter of human rights and anti-corruption efforts in recent years, who had been re-elected to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, left the country after Congress blocked her swearing-in ceremony and refused to let her take up the appointment.

In June, four judges from high-risk criminal courts who had been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reported to the Public Prosecutor’s Office that they were the targets of harassment and threats. One month later, the Attorney General dismissed Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, who fled the country amid concerns over his safety. In October, she also transferred the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office on Human Rights, who had helped bring the former military president Efraín Ríos Montt to justice.

Human rights defenders and excessive use of force

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) recorded 839 attacks against human rights defenders between January and November. Guatemala once again had the fourth highest rate of killings worldwide of land and environmental defenders per capita; 13 were killed in 2020, according to the NGO Global Witness.

Despite this context, by the end of the year Guatemala had yet to ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), which includes provisions for the protection of environmental human rights defenders.

In May, the new members of the Constitutional Court rejected legal challenges filed by civil society organizations against the controversial NGO Law and it entered into force on 21 June. At least three appeals were subsequently filed before the Constitutional Court in relation to elements of the law that could allow for serious violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association, including vaguely worded clauses that could lead to NGOs being shut down or targeted in other ways. The appeals were pending at the end of the year.

Court hearings continued in the case of prisoner of conscience Bernardo Caal Xol, imprisoned since January 2018 for defending the rights of Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities affected by the construction of the OXEC hydroelectric dam project.215“Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July In August, the Supreme Court rejected a cassation appeal for his release presented by his lawyers. In October, police agents violently repressed Q’eqchi’ Maya people who had been peacefully protesting for three weeks against a mining company operating in their territory in El Estor, as well as demonstrators and journalists. Following the incident, the President decreed a state of emergency in the municipality.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Guatemalans continued to flee violence, poverty, inequality and climate change.

Hundreds of Guatemalans were deported and pushed back by Mexican authorities, together with other people from Central America and Haiti, to remote areas at the border where they were left without proper assistance.

Security forces beat and used tear gas against a caravan of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country in January, on the pretext of enforcing Covid-19 protocols.316“Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March

Right to health

Guatemala had the lowest percentage of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Latin America, at just 25.7%, amid corruption allegations in connection with the purchase of vaccines and the handling of the pandemic.

Although a detailed national vaccination plan was published, it did not include a protocol for Indigenous peoples.

Violence against women and girls

In March, after two decades of struggle for justice by the family of María Isabel Veliz Franco, a 15-year-old girl killed in 2001 whose body showed signs of sexual violence, a national court sentenced a man to 30 years’ imprisonment for her murder. Guatemala had been condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 for failing to diligently investigate her death and prevent violations of her rights.

Sexual and reproductive rights

In December, Congress started discussing a legislative initiative (5940) which, if passed, would violate the rights of transgender children and adolescents.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In May, the security forces arrested 11 retired military and police officers suspected of involvement in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other crimes under international law and human rights violations against at least 183 people considered political opponents between 1983 and 1985 in the case known as “Diario Militar”. At least eight were detained awaiting trial at the end of the year.

  1. “Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

  2. “Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July

  3. “Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March

  1. “Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

  2. “Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July

  3. “Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March

  4. Afghanistan: Unspeakable killings of civilians must prompt end to impunity”, 10 May

  5. Afghanistan: Taliban responsible for brutal massacre of Hazara men – new investigation”, 19 August

  6. Afghanistan: Unravelling of women’s and girls’ rights looms as peace talks falter”, 24 May

  7. The Fate of Thousands Hanging in the Balance: Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban, (Index: ASA 11/4727/2021), 21 September

  8. Afghanistan: Taliban must allow girls to return to school immediately – new testimony”, 13 October

  9. Afghanistan: Oxygen and Vaccines Urgently Needed as Covid-19 Infections Surge”, 11 June

  10. Afghanistan: Despicable killing of female polio vaccine workers must be investigated”, 30 March

  11. Afghanistan: ICC Prosecutor’s Statement on Afghanistan Jeopardises his Office’s Legitimacy and Future (Index: IOR 53/4842/2021), 5 October

  12. “Brazil: 1,000 days of Bolsonaro and Brazil’s grave human rights crisis”, 20 October

  13. Brazil: Lack of Oxygen to Treat Patients in Manaus (Index: AMR 19/3539/2021), 15 January

  14. “Guatemala: International organizations demand end to criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders”, 8 June

  15. “Guatemala: Amnesty International delivers 27,957 signatures demanding release of Bernardo Caal”, 7 July

  16. “Guatemala: La pandemia no puede ser un pretexto para negar protección internacional”, 30 March