French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian shakes hand with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry after their joint news conference in Cairo, Egypt June 8, 2017


© 2017 Reuters

(Paris) – The French government should ensure that human rights are central to its relationship with Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today. France should stop ignoring serious abuses, including Egyptian security services’ widespread and systematic use of torture, which likely constitutes a crime against humanity. President Emmanuel Macron will hold his first meeting with President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in Paris on October 24, 2017. Al-Sisi will also meet with the heads of the French National Assembly and Senate.

The meetings should serve as an opportunity to revise France’s economic, security, and military support to the Egyptian government, making it conditional on tangible human rights improvements. Under former President Francois Hollande, France provided billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to Egypt and rarely criticized these serious violations.

“President Macron should not miss the chance to make a first impression on al-Sisi that Egypt’s human rights record will not be given a pass,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Continuing to support Egypt’s repressive government would betray the country’s brave activists, who face grave risks trying to make their country better.”

In recent years, the French-Egyptian relationship has centered on military and security cooperation and counterterrorism. Two weeks after Macron took office, on May 30, he called al-Sisi and told him that France “stands with Egypt against terrorism” following the May 26 attack by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) that killed 29 Egyptian Copts in Minya governorate.

Five days later, the new French defense minister, Sylvie Goulard, met with her Egyptian counterpart, Sedki Sobhi, and al-Sisi in Cairo. On June 8, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was in Cairo for a day of meetings, including with al-Sisi. “We had meetings on fighting terrorism and the stabilization of Libya,” Le Drian said.

Le Drian previously served as defense minister and oversaw several weapons transfers to Egypt, visiting Egypt eight times in three years.

Egypt is one of France’s top weapons customers. Since 2014, Egypt has signed deals worth roughly US$10 billion in military equipment and weapons. This included a US$1 billion deal in 2014 to provide four warships, and a US$6 billion deal in 2015 to provide 24 Rafale jet fighters. France has also provided many other weapons and military services including a military satellite for US$700 million, two Mistral helicopter carriers originally built for sale to Russia, for US$1 billion, and rockets as well as small, firearms, and ammunitions for almost US$1 billion.

France’s arms export policy does not provide for proactive end-use monitoring after the sale, but it is still governed by rights-related regulations, including the December 2008 European Council Common Position that defined eight criteria governing arms exports, including respect for human rights. The 2008 position requires EU countries to “deny an export license if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression,” or “… in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

The 2008 position stated that “internal repression” includes torture, arbitrary or summary executions, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.

France’s arms exports to Egypt also violate the conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which said on August 21, 2013, that European countries should suspend arms exports that could be used in internal repression. The statement followed the violent dispersal by the government of mass protests opposing the forcible removal by al-Sisi, then-defense minister, of former President Mohamed Morsy, killing over 1,000 people in one day, on August 14.

The Egyptian government under al-Sisi’s rule has shown utter disregard for the country’s constitution and international law. Al-Sisi has presided over Egypt’s worst human rights crisis in the country in decades. Egyptian authorities have arrested or charged at least 60,000 people, forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time, handed down preliminary death sentences to hundreds more, and sent more than 15,000 civilians to military courts. The primary target has been the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition movement, but almost no single peaceful group escaped the repression.

Egypt’s security forces systematically use torture, a public inquiry by the United Nations Committee Against Torture concluded in 2017. Human Rights Watch documented what amounts to an “assembly line” of enforced disappearance and torture by the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency that included, most commonly, electric shocks and stress positions and sometimes rape or the threat of rape. The systematic use of torture since al-Sisi rose to power probably amounts to a crime against humanity.

In Northern Sinai, fighting with the ISIS-affiliate Wilayat Sinai has been marred by abuses. In one example, a video leak in April showed army officers accompanied by a pro-government militia executing blindfolded detainees at close range.

Nongovernmental groups and activists face a brutal government crackdown, including prosecutions and travel bans. A new law regulating nongovernmental groups, that al-Sisi passed in May, criminalizes the work of independent groups and threatens to end their decades-long independent work in the country.

The French Foreign Ministry has released statements about almost every major attack against Egyptian security forces, but French officials rarely speak about the dire and systematic violations these forces commit. In response to a journalist’s question on the mass arrests of dozens of gay people in Egypt, Le Drian said on October 9 that “Human rights are regularly discussed with the Egyptians as part of our trust-based relationship.”

The French government says that Egypt is central to regional stability and that it is important to support Egypt’s security forces. But Egypt’s counterterrorism policy, shadowed by grave abuses and used as a pretext to stifle all forms of peaceful dissent, may be cultivating an environment of radicalization. Young people are left with no means to peacefully express their opposition. Many analysts question the counterterrorism policy’s effectiveness as well. Violent attacks have been generally on the rise. Heavy military operations have been extended to al-Arish, the biggest city in the North Sinai governorate. Several studies have shown that prisons in Egypt are becoming a fertile environment for radicalization.

Al-Sisi is also set to meet with French businesses as well as MEDEF, the biggest French entrepreneurs network, to discuss economic ties and their investments in Egypt. France was the sixth-largest investor in Egypt in 2016 with more than 160 French companies involved. French businesses should be aware of the relentless crackdown on independent groups, including the near-absolute ban on independent workers’ unions and the criminalization of peaceful sit-ins. Since 2016, Human Rights Watch found, Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 183 workers for workplace protests or involvement in independent unions, dozens of whom were sent to trial, sometimes before military courts.

“President Macron should refuse to continue France’s disgraceful policies of indulgence toward al-Sisi’s repressive government,” Jeannerod said. “Saying that issues are discussed but continuing to take no action would be like sweeping the grievances and pains of Egyptians under the carpet.”

 

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Ibtissam, 22, a mother of two hoping to reunite with her husband in Germany, pictured at the Souda Refugee Camp on Chios island, Greece, June 10, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra


(Athens) – Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should end the Greek government’s “containment policy” of confining asylum seekers to the Aegean islands, 19 human rights and humanitarian aid organizations said in an open letter released today.

Thousands of people, including very young children, single or pregnant women, and people with physical disabilities, are trapped in abysmal conditions as winter sets in. Forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health, and dignity, cannot be justified by the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, the organizations said.

Since the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016, the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Leros have become places of indefinite confinement. Thousands of women, men, and children are trapped in deplorable and volatile conditions, with many denied access to adequate asylum procedures. Asylum seekers who arrived on the islands in the first days of the implementation of the EU-Turkey Deal have been stuck there for almost 19 months.

The recent increase in arrivals of men, women, and children has increased the pressure on the already overcrowded reception and identification centers known as hotspots. Current arrivals are still comparatively quite low and should be manageable for Greece and the EU more broadly, but they include a significant number of women and children.

The situation is particularly critical on Samos and Lesbos, where a total of more than 8,300 asylum seekers and migrants are living in hotspot facilities meant for just 3,000. The recent announcement that 2,000 asylum seekers will be moved from the two islands to the mainland in the coming weeks as an emergency decongestion measure is a positive development, the groups said. But it is not sufficient to alleviate the current overcrowding of the facilities and does not sustainably address the systemic issues that have created this emergency situation – namely the containment policy.

With the approach of the third winter since large-scale arrivals on the islands began, it is evident that the Greek authorities cannot meet the basic needs and protect the rights of asylum seekers while they remain on the islands. Implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement has been cited by EU and Greek officials as a justification for the containment policy. But forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health, and dignity, cannot be justified, the organizations said.

The organizations urged Prime Minister Tsipras to protect the human rights of asylum seekers trapped on the islands by ending the containment policy. They should be transferred to the mainland so that they can be provided with adequate accommodation and services to meet their needs and to ensure that their asylum claims are fairly heard.

Quotes from Participating Groups

“Greece should end its cruel policy of trapping asylum seekers on the islands,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “People should not be forced to suffer another winter in unheated tents and without proper services.”

“The policy of containment is putting the lives of people who are seeking sanctuary in Europe at risk,” said Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director. “While we welcome the government’s announcement to move 2,000 people on Lesbos and Samos off the islands in the coming days as an emergency measure, this can only be seen as a first step. Far more must be done to both improve conditions on the islands, and move the most vulnerable to the mainland, in order to ensure that lives are not lost this winter.”

Refugee tents next to the Moria hotspot on Lesbos island, where thousands of people, including very young children, pregnant women, and people with physical disabilities, are trapped in abysmal conditions as winter sets in. Emina Cerimovic for Human Rights Watch. September 2017.


“The EU-Turkey deal must no longer be used as pretext to strand asylum-seekers in inhuman conditions on the Greek islands’’ said Irem Arf, Amnesty International’s researcher on migration. “It is imperative that the Greek government urgently move people to mainland Greece.”

“The policy of implementing the EU-Turkey Statement has been violating asylum seekers’ rights under international law, and has contributed in disrupting social cohesion in the Greek islands affected,” said Spyros Rizakos, director of Aitima. “It is high time the EU and Greek authorities abandoned this policy.”

“Europe is refusing to offer humane reception conditions and dignity to people in need who arrive on our shores,” said Nicola Bay, head of mission for Oxfam in Greece. “Greek and EU authorities should immediately transfer migrants to the Greek mainland instead of leaving them trapped in abysmal conditions on the Greek islands.”

“Making these Greek islands a huge detention center isn’t in the interests of anyone,” said Gianmaria Pinto, Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “We all know what it is needed, including the government: to provide vulnerable people trapped on the islands with dignified accommodation and adequate services, without overlooking legal aid.”

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A man talks on the phone in Beijing, China, March 2, 2017.


© 2017 Reuters

(New York) – The Chinese government is collecting “voice pattern” samples of individuals to establish a national voice biometric database, Human Rights Watch said today.

Authorities are collaborating with iFlytek, a Chinese company that produces 80 percent of all speech recognition technology in the country, to develop a pilot surveillance system that can automatically identify targeted voices in phone conversations. Human Rights Watch wrote to iFlytek on August 2, 2017, asking about its business relationship with the Ministry of Public Security, the description on its website of a mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system it has developed, and whether it has any human rights policies. iFlytek has not responded.

“The Chinese government has been collecting the voice patterns of tens of thousands of people with little transparency about the program or laws regulating who can be targeted or how that information is going to be used,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Authorities can easily misuse that data in a country with a long history of unchecked surveillance and retaliation against critics.”

The Chinese government has stepped up the use of biometric technology in recent years – including the construction of large-scale biometric databases – to bolster its existing mass surveillance and social control efforts. Compared with other biometric databases run by the police, the voice pattern database appears to be less established, with fewer samples in it. By 2015, police had collected 70,000 voice patterns in Anhui province, one of the main pilot provinces identified by the ministry for such collection. In comparison, national police databases have more than one billion faces and 40 million people’s DNA samples.

The collection of voice biometrics is part of the Chinese government’s drive to form a “multi-modal” biometric portrait of individuals and to gather ever more data about citizens. This voice biometric data is linked in police databases to the person’s identification number, which in turn can then be linked to a person’s other biometric and personal information on file, including their ethnicity, home address, and even their hotel records.

It is extremely difficult in China for individuals to remove such personal information, challenge its collection, or otherwise obtain redress for government surveillance. Unlike other types of biometric collection, such as fingerprinting or DNA sampling, individuals may not even realize their voice pattern has been collected, or that they are under surveillance.

Chinese authorities’ arsenal of surveillance tools just keeps getting bigger while privacy rights lag far behind.

Sophie Richardson

China Director

Official tender documents and police reports suggest that police are collecting voice patterns together with other biometrics – fingerprints, palm prints, and profile photos, as well as urine and DNA samples – when they conduct “standardized” (标准化) and “integrated” (一体化) “information collection” (信息采集).

Police officers can subject anyone suspected of “violating the law or committing crimes” (违法犯罪), including misdemeanors, to this treatment. In one case, for example, police collected the voice patterns of three women who were suspected of sex work – including two suspected of administrative offenses – as police filed the case in an Anhui county.

No public official policy documents attempt to justify the creation or use of such voice pattern databases, but academic articles by scientists who are leading their development state that its purpose is to help identify the speaker in voice materials collected during a crime. An artificial intelligence program, known as an Automatic Speaker Recognition (ASR) system, is used to speed up the matching process.

Government reports in the media claim that Automatic Speaker Recognition forensics have been used to match voice patterns to solve cases involving telecommunications fraud, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and blackmail. According to these same reports, it will also be applied for counterterrorism and “stability maintenance” purposes – terms authorities sometimes use to justify the suppression of peaceful dissent.

As the government weaves a tightened web of surveillance, there are more ways ordinary citizens can get caught for criticizing the government, as well as for mobilizing and organizing for social change. There have been documented cases in which activists and netizens have been sentenced for their peaceful expression on communication tools, including on social media applications like WeChat.

The government has stepped up efforts to enforce “real-name registration” requirements for a range of services, including when purchasing mobile SIM cards, narrowing the space for anonymity and privacy. There are also cases in which activists are being tracked down by police when they travel on trains, as the authorities require “real name registration” for this and other forms of public transportation. Authorities have also installed CCTV cameras in front of the residences of activists, intimidating and monitoring them.

Government collection or use of biometric data is not inherently illegal and has been justified at times as a permissible investigative tactic. But to meet international privacy standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed but not ratified, each government instance of collection, retention, and use of biometrics must be comprehensively regulated, narrow in scope, and necessary as well as proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal.

Given the sensitivity of biometric data, government officials should not collect or use such information unless necessary for the investigation of serious crime, and not for minor offenses or administrative purposes such as tracking migrants. Both collection and use should be limited to people found to be involved in wrongdoing, and not broad populations who have no specific link to crime. Collection, use, and retention should never be based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religious, political, or other views. Individuals should have the right to know what biometric data the government holds on them.

Technology companies also have a human rights responsibility to ensure that their products and services do not contribute to human rights abuses, including violations of privacy and fair trial rights.

“Chinese authorities’ arsenal of surveillance tools just keeps getting bigger while privacy rights lag far behind,” Richardson said. “The Chinese authorities should immediately stop gathering highly sensitive biometric data until legal protections are clear – and clearly reliable.”

Voice Pattern Database; Automatic Speaker Recognition

In 2012, the Ministry of Public Security started the construction of a national voice pattern database and designated Anhui as one of the pilot provinces.

In 2014, the Anhui provincial police bureau issued an order to accelerate the database construction. Since then, police bureaus across that province have purchased voice pattern collection systems, based on official tender documents.

Similar purchases for voice pattern collection systems were also made in 2016 by the police bureaus in Xinjiang, a repressive region with 11 million ethnic minority Uyghurs, following the “Notice to Fully Carry Out the Construction of Three-Dimensional Portraits, Voice Pattern, and DNA Fingerprint Biometrics Collection System” (关于全面开展三维人像、声纹、DNA指纹生物信息采集系统建设相关工作的通知). A local police station reported that front-line officers are given monthly quotas for biometric collection.

Police and media reports also indicate that police units have been constructing voice pattern databases in Guangdong province, Anqi county in Fujian province, Wuhan city in Hubei province, and Nanjing city in Jiangsu province.

Human Rights Watch also found that police have collected voice patterns of ordinary citizens. For example:

  • A police station in Xuancheng city, Anhui province, stated on April 27, 2017, that it is collecting voice patterns along with fingerprints and blood samples of migrant workers “to effectively grasp the actual situation regarding the migrant population”;
  • In Bole city, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, an office responsible for managing domestic migrants described 14 new voice pattern collection systems in its 2016 annual report as part of its efforts to “strengthen the collection information on migrants”;
  • Two separate police reports, dated April and May 2017, from Zhengzhou city, Henan province, note that the voice patterns of Uyghur migrants in their jurisdictions have been collected, along with other biometrics;
  • Human Rights Watch has earlier documented that Xinjiang passport applicants are required to submit their biometrics to the police, which includes a voice pattern sample.

A February 2017 report by the news website The Paper, since deleted inside China but still available on the overseas website China Digital Times, described how Anhui police were piloting an Automatic Speaker Recognition system to monitor phone conversations in real time, automatically picking out the targeted voice patterns of individuals and alerting the police:

A woman in Huainan, Anhui, received a scam call … just as the scammer was instructing her, step-by-step, how to transfer her money … the voice pattern recognition system, recognizing the scammers’ voice patterns, alerted the police; the police then directly cut off the phone conversation.

The technology is integrated into a surveillance system put in place by iFlytek and an unnamed local telecommunications company.
 

iFlytek

iFlytek, based in Anhui province, is a major artificial intelligence company focused on speech and speaker recognition. iFlytek’s website touts the company’s achievement in developing the country’s first “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system.” Its website states that it has helped the Ministry of Public Security in building a national voice pattern database. It is also the designated supplier of voice pattern collection systems purchased by Xinjiang and Anhui police bureaus. It says it has set up, jointly with the ministry’s forensics center, a key ministry laboratory in artificial intelligent voice technology (智能语音技术公安部重点实验室) that has “helped solve cases” in Anhui, Gansu, Tibet, and Xinjiang. The company states it can develop artificial intelligence systems that can handle minority languages, including Tibetan and Uyghur.

iFlytek’s website also claims it has developed other audio-related applications, including “keyword spotting” for “public security” and “national defense” purposes. The web page gives no further details of what these keywords or the security threats might be. In a patent it filed in August 2013, iFlytek states that it has developed a system to discover “repeated audio files” in the telecommunications system and on the internet that may be useful in “monitoring public opinion”:

[Such a system] … which can automatically pick up, from a massive amount of audio information, audio clips that appear repeatedly is very important in information security and in monitoring public opinion.… For audio information on the phone [system], the use of the technology can quickly find illegal phone recordings that are being transmitted. For audio and video data on the internet, the technology can quickly and accurately dig out the most popular audio and video clips.

iFlytek has a joint laboratory with the Department of Electronic Engineering at Tsinghua University. The department has a long history of developing speech and speaker recognition for automated telephone surveillance, and is a major player in the Golden Shield Project, the Ministry of Public Security’s ambitious plan to bolster and broaden surveillance using technology.

iFlytek also has a range of commercial text-to-speech and speech recognition applications for mobile phones, including a voice assistance app for Android phones in China. The company states it has 890 million users, which would provide a large speech data set that can be used to train and improve its speech recognition software for a range of purposes, potentially including surveillance.

It is unclear to what extent iFlytek shares the personal information it collects for commercial purposes with the Ministry of Public Security. While iFlytek promises confidentiality in its customer privacy statement, it also says that it may disclose personal information “according to the demands of the relevant government departments.” China’s Cybersecurity Law requires companies to provide undefined “technical support” to security agencies to aid in investigations, and provides no privacy protections against state surveillance. iFlytek is not required to inform users of government information requests, for example.

During the 2014 annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) – China’s rubber stamp legislature – Liu Qingfeng, chairman of iFlytek and a deputy to the NPC, urged the authorities to “employ big data in countering terrorism as soon as possible, and to speed up the construction of the voice pattern database … to protect national security.”

Other governments have used automated speech recognition programs, including the United States for monitoring prison calls and Australia for verifying callers accessing social services; the Spanish police have more than 3,500 voice samples from people convicted of crimes.

While some governments pursue voice pattern collection for identification or authentication in limited situations, there are significant challenges to applying such technology for crime control and surveillance. The accuracy of an Automatic Speaker Recognition system is affected by the circumstances of speech, including emotions.

According to a speech recognition expert who spoke to Human Rights Watch but did not wish to be named, a system’s ability to conduct real-time surveillance is also limited. With current technology, such a system at most can only “listen” to 50 phone lines at one time to trace one targeted voice. The consequences of false positives, where the system incorrectly matches a voice to a stored voice pattern, could be severe when the technology is used to investigate and prosecute crimes, especially in countries such as China, where conviction rate is above 99 percent and few effective redress mechanisms exist.

Governments and private sector companies alike face additional challenges in securing large-scale biometric databases. These can become prime targets for cybercriminals, who could attempt to breach them to acquire biometrics to commit identity theft and fraud. Unlike with a national ID number or password, people cannot generally change their voice, face, or other biometrics, and so they may be left with little recourse or protection if such data is breached.

A booth displays face recognition software at an exhibition during the 86th Interpol General Assembly in Beijing, China, September 27, 2017.


© 2017 Reuters

Biometric Collection and Wiretapping in Chinese and International Law

Chinese law appears to limit police collection of biometric samples to people connected to the investigation of a specific criminal case. Article 130 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) states that in the course of criminal investigations, to “ascertain certain features, conditions of injuries, or physical conditions of a victim or a criminal suspect, a physical examination may be conducted, and fingerprints, blood, urine and other biological samples may be collected. If a criminal suspect refuses to be examined, the investigators, when they deem it necessary, may conduct a compulsory examination.”

But there are no legal guidelines or limitations on how long biometric samples can be stored, shared, or used, or how their collection or use can be challenged. While there are Ministry of Public Security internal departmental rules that focus on the administrative and technical aspects of voice pattern collection, most are not publicly available.

The collection of biometrics from migrants may also be taking place outside the law. While there are provincial-level rules authorizing local governments to collect migrants’ “basic data,” they do not explicitly include biometrics as part of the collected data.

Chinese law also does not authorize the police to collect individuals’ biometric data in cases of administrative offenses, though this may be changing. In early 2017, the Chinese government issued new draft amendments to its Public Security Administrative Punishments Law, in which a new provision, article 112, authorizes police to collect biometrics to identify victims and offenders in minor administrative cases.

Article 148 of the Criminal Procedure Law allows criminal investigators to wiretap criminal suspects as well as anyone connected to the crime for serious crimes, including endangering state security, terrorism, organized crime, drug-related crimes, and corruption. Such wiretapping does not require a court warrant – approval from supervisors in the relevant criminal investigation units is adequate under the law.

The National People’s Congress should review and revise legislation relevant to biometric data collection and wiretapping to ensure they are compliant with standards under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These standards must be part of a legal framework that ensures collection, use, and retention of such data is a) necessary in the sense that less intrusive measures are unavailable; b) appropriately restricted to ensure the action is proportionate to a legitimate purpose such as public safety; and c) does not impair the essence of the right to privacy and other related rights.

To ensure these standards are enforced, any biometric data program should also include independent authorization for collection and use, public notification, and means of independent oversight, as well as avenues for people to challenge abuses and have access to remedies. The authorities should also publish information about the collection and use of voice pattern recognition technology, including disclosure about databases that have been created and specific searches they conduct.

iFlytek should cease technology transfers and support for surveillance systems provided to the Ministry of Public Security and provincial authorities until regulations are in place that ensure privacy and other human rights are protected. Technology companies should refrain from sharing voice pattern or other personal information collected for commercial purposes with security agencies without a specific court warrant targeting an individual under suspicion of a serious crime.

The companies should not use voice patterns that were collected for commercial purposes to train or otherwise develop technology for surveillance purposes, as information collected from individuals for one purpose should not be used for another without their consent. Companies should also submit voice recognition technology developed for surveillance applications to public, independent accuracy competitions and publish performance results, including tests that address accuracy for ethnic minority languages and potential algorithmic bias that would affect minorities. 

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The debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) can be pretty tiresome. Its not even a debate, so much as it is an exercise in political mobilization.  For the most part, opponents trying whip up opposition are content to repeat the same falsehoods over and over again, which work well enough to rile up … Read More…

This week at the courtOn Friday the justices will meet for their October 27 conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that conference will be available soon. The calendar for the November sitting, which begins on October 30, is available on the Supreme Court’s website.

The post This week at the court appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

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Today, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization – a global event to raise awareness about the limitations that abusive and discriminatory medical models place on transgender people’s basic rights.

Participants March during the Tokyo Rainbow Parade. On October 22, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization. Despite progress, governments around the world, including the Japanese government, propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people “mentally ill.”


©2015 Reuters/Thomas Peter

Transgender activists are fighting a tide of stigma and discrimination, with roots deeply entwined in a medical system that has historically diagnosed this very desire to change as a mental health condition. It’s currently referred to as “gender dysphoria” in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual and as “gender identity disorders” in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.

Despite progress in countries such as Malta, Norway, Argentina, and Nepal, governments around the world propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people “mentally ill.”

For example, transgender people who want to change the gender on personal documents in Kazakhstan are required to undergo surgical procedures, hormone therapy, and a humiliating “evaluation” interview before a commission of “experts.” Japanese law requires a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and then mandates surgical procedures and hormonal interventions, even if the person doesn’t want them.

Healthcare professionals have an important role providing care for transgender people, free from discrimination and to the highest standard possible. But the process for legal recognition of gender identity should be separate from any medical interventions. In 2015, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health called on governments to “eliminate unnecessary barriers and to institute simple and accessible administrative procedures for transgender people to obtain legal recognition of gender.”

The World Health Organization is considering major changes to its revised version of the International Classification of Diseases, due out in 2018, in the hopes of significantly transforming the way physicians around the world code and categorize transgender people’s experiences. The proposed revisions would move transgender-related diagnoses out of the mental disorders chapter and into a new sexual health chapter – an important step. Human rights issues, such as legal recognition, should be separate from any medical interventions. But if someone’s personal transition process requires medical support, those services should be available and accessible.

All governments should commit to the core principle that they will not decide for people who they are.

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Petition of the dayThe petition of the day is: Ferrellgas Partners, L.P. v. Morgan-Larson, LLC 17-441 Issue: Whether, or in what circumstances, a plaintiff adequately pleads a “continuing violation” of the antitrust laws, sufficient to satisfy the statute of limitations, by alleging continuing sales during the limitations period when the alleged price-fixing conspiracy was formed outside the limitations period.

The post Petition of the day appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Wednesday approved a US$500 million loan for a crucial piece of a network of pipelines owned largely by the Azerbaijani government that will transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe. The bank made this decision even though an international oil and gas transparency initiative, endorsed by the bank, recently suspended Azerbaijan because the government would not end its crackdown on civil society groups.

Oil derricks are silhouetted against the rising sun on an oilfield in Baku, on January 24, 2013.


© 2013 Reuters

The bank’s decision was expected earlier this year, but was delayed when Azerbaijan was suspended from, and then quit, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March. EITI is a coalition of governments, corporations, and independent groups that promotes better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about how oil, gas, and mining revenues are used. The EBRD has endorsed EITI and is also the only multilateral development bank that has a political mandate, which includes the principles of “multiparty democracy and pluralism.”

The bank appeared to minimize the systematic dismantling of the country’s once vibrant civil society through the arrests and convictions of dozens of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists on bogus, politically motivated charges, as well as the closing of independent media outlets. The crackdown did not spare anti-corruption activists, such as Ilgar Mammadov, a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s gas industry who had been actively involved in promoting revenue transparency. He’s been in prison for nearly five years on politically motivated charges. The EBRD knew this was happening since at least 2014 when its country strategy for Azerbaijan explicitly acknowledged Azerbaijan’s poor record on meeting its human rights commitments.

The bank claims Azerbaijan will still follow principles of transparency akin to EITI, but this is difficult to fathom given the crackdown on civil society and new allegations of massive corruption. The bank’s decision came just weeks after investigative reporting in The Guardian alleged that Azerbaijan maintained a secret slush fund of about US$2.9 billion that it used over a two-year period to bribe European politicians, including to help whitewash the government’s human rights record. Among those implicated in the scandal is one of the bank’s board members.

The Azerbaijani government is eager to get the pipeline funded. The EBRD could have used its leverage for much-needed reforms. Instead, its endorsement of transparency rings hollow.

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Students at an Islamic boarding school perform prayers at a mosque on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Medan, North Sumatra June 29, 2014. 


© 2014 Y.T Haryono / Reuters

Christians and other religious minorities need not apply.

That’s the message conveyed to policewoman Ida Maharani Hutagaol in Binjal, in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, when she applied to adopt an abandoned infant she had helped take to the hospital in mid-year.

Hutagaol had grown attached to the month-old baby boy, so she did the paperwork to adopt, meeting all requirements for income, mental health, and family background. She also committed to make the boy her heir, inheriting her assets upon her death. Three weeks later, the Ministry of Social Affairs informed her that her adoption application had been rejected. The reason: Hutagaol is a Christian in a majority Sunni Muslim area.

A ministry official informed Hutagaol that she could not adopt the infant because of a 2007 national government regulation on adoption that states, “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.” That is based on the 2014 Child Protection Law, which states, “Adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child.” That law effectively bars religious minorities from adopting children who aren’t known to be of the same religion. Retno Listyarti, a commissioner on the official Indonesian Child Protection Commission, said the law provides zero flexibility for adoptions by religious minorities.

The discriminatory restrictions on adoptions is just one of many laws in Indonesia that perpetuate discrimination against religious minorities. They include the house of worship regulation, which requires minorities to get majority approval to construct houses of worship, and the blasphemy law, which punishes deviations from Indonesia’s six officially protected religions with up to five years in prison.

The 1965 blasphemy law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and of traditional religions. The most recent high-profile targets of the blasphemy law include former Jakarta governor Basuki Purnama and three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community, now jailed in Jakarta. Those laws are supported by the principle of “religious harmony,” institutionalized in 2006 by then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which obligates the Sunni majority to “protect” religious minorities and for religious minorities to “respect” the majority.

Members of Indonesia’s religious minorities, including Ida Maharani Hutagaol, will continue to face discrimination until the government revokes these laws. 

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Chief Justice Salmon Chase on the permanency of the Union, and Cynthia Nicoletti on Chase’s political ambitionsIn Texas v. White in 1869, Chief Justice Salmon Chase famously wrote for the Supreme Court that the “Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.” Chase’s opinion rejecting state secession may seem today like a foregone conclusion, an unsurprising legal corollary to the Union’s victory on the battlefield. […]

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