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Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For more than 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

Human Rights Watch investigates and documents major human rights issues in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide, with a staff of more than 200 researchers and country experts. Our contributions to Huffington Post are centralized here.

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Entries by Human Rights Watch

Video: Watch How Florida Prosecutes Children as Adults

(0) Comments | Posted April 10, 2014 | 4:08 PM

Criminal Records Brand Youth for Life

(Tallahassee) – Every year, the state of Florida arbitrarily and unfairly prosecutes hundreds of children as adults. If convicted, these children suffer the lifelong consequences of an adult felony record for what are often low-level, nonviolent offenses.

The new 110-page report “Branded for Life: Florida’s Prosecution of Children as Adults under its 'Direct File' Statute,” details the harm that results from the state’s practice of giving prosecutors full discretion to decide which children to prosecute in adult courts. More than 98 percent of the 1,500 cases of children charged as adults between 2012 and 2013 were brought by prosecutors under the direct file statute. The law offers no opportunity for a judge to review or reverse the prosecutor’s decision, no matter how unsuitable the case is for criminal court.

“The children caught up in the ‘direct file’ law cannot legally vote, drink, or buy cigarettes in the state of Florida,” said Alba Morales, a US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Yet they can be tried as adults with no judge evaluating that decision, and branded as felons for life.”

While children who commit crimes can and should be held accountable, doing so in adult courts and prisons is both unnecessary and harmful to society and youth, Human Rights Watch said. Rather than enhancing public safety, studies indicate, trying children in the adult criminal justice system produces higher recidivism rates for these offenders than for those who are kept in the juvenile justice system.

Children are less mature in their judgment and self-control than adults, and above all, are still developing and have great potential to change. The juvenile system is intended to rehabilitate and to balance the needs of society and the best interests of the child, while the adult criminal justice system emphasizes punishment over all else. Children prosecuted as adults lose access to age-appropriate education and programming provided under the juvenile court system. Young people describe feeling confused and abandoned in adult court. Many encounter violence in adult jails and prisons.

“In adult court, they want to lock us up,” one youth, a boy, told Human Rights Watch. “In juvenile court they want to help us make better choices.”

For nearly every child charged and convicted in adult court in Florida, the end result is an adult felony record that will harm him or her for life. A few cases result in misdemeanor or other non-felony convictions. Those with felony convictions are barred from many types of employment and suffer many other deprivations, including permanent loss of the right to vote.

Prosecutors may contend that they transfer young offenders to adult court for only the most serious crimes. But of the children tried in adult court in Florida in 2012 and 2013, 60 percent had been accused of nonviolent offenses, according to data Human Rights Watch analyzed.

Human Rights Watch spoke to over 100 youth and family members of youth charged directly in adult court by Florida’s prosecutors. Among the cases reviewed were:

  • “Oliver,” prosecuted in adult court at age 16 for stealing two laptops from a classroom;
  • “Matthew,” charged with burglary as an adult at age 17 for breaking into the back porch of a home and taking a printer that was stored there;
  • “Karl,” who said the 25-year sentence he faced for the adult court charges of criminal mischief and assault for offenses committed at age 15 and 16, was “a long time to be away from my grandmother”; and
  • “Scott,” who was wrongfully arrested and charged as an adult, but who has not been able to attend one of Florida’s firefighting academies as he planned because his arrest as an adult remains on his record even though the charges were dismissed. 

The report also includes new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch showing that the overwhelming power Florida has handed to prosecutors is playing out in arbitrary and unjust ways. Florida’s judicial circuits send arrested children to adult court and impose harsh adult punishments at vastly different rates, though the differences cannot be explained by the seriousness of offenses, the size of youth populations in the various circuits, or any other neutral criteria Human Rights Watch examined. In some circuits, evidence suggests that racial bias may affect who is sent for an adult trial. 

“The same child, accused of the same offense, may receive vastly different treatment based on nothing more than which prosecutor is in charge of their case,” Morales said. “These decisions should be handled by Florida’s juvenile judges, who can ensure fair treatment, not by prosecutors who have a vested interest in getting defendants to plead guilty or in punitive outcomes.” 

The US Supreme Court, in a series of four recent cases, has underscored what every parent knows – that children are developmentally less mature, and more capable of rehabilitation. Their punishment should take into account their diminished culpability and their capacity to change, Human Rights Watch said. Judgments about punishment are best made by the juvenile system, which takes these factors into account.

“Florida should stop its widespread practice of saddling children with adult felony records that offer no recognition of their capacity to change,” Morales said. “Children, including teens, can be held accountable without subjecting them to treatment as harsh as that which the state of Florida is handing out.”

By the Numbers: View Charts Showing Racial Disparity in Sentencing...
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Central African Republic: Massacres in Remote Villages

(0) Comments | Posted April 3, 2014 | 3:47 PM

(Johannesburg) – Anti-balaka fighters killed at least 72 Muslim men and boys, some as young as 9, in two recent attacks in southwestern Central African Republic. The assaults, on February 1 and 5, 2014, were in the village of Guen, in a region where abuses have been rampant, but...

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Turkey Pulls the Plug on YouTube

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2014 | 5:53 PM

Turkey: YouTube Block Violates Free Expression

(Istanbul) – The Turkish government’s decision to close down YouTube by administrative order is a disastrous move for freedom of expression and the right to access information in Turkey. The government similarly closed down Twitter on March 21. The restrictions violate Turkey’s obligations...

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Ukraine: Investigate Involvement of Self-Defense Units, Special Forces in 'Disappearances'

(0) Comments | Posted March 25, 2014 | 11:30 AM

Activists Detained and Beaten, One Tortured

(Berlin) – Armed groups in Crimea abducted two political activists, held them for 11 days in secret detention along with several other detainees, ill-treated both, and badly tortured one of them. The activists gave Human Rights Watch detailed accounts of what happened to them...

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Senegal: Thousands of Boys Forced to Beg Face Exploitation

(0) Comments | Posted March 19, 2014 | 11:59 AM

A little more than one year ago, a fire ripped through a Quranic boarding school, housed in a makeshift shack, in Dakar, Senegal. The fire killed eight boys.

In the year since, Senegal has made inadequate progress in protecting the thousands of young boys who are housed in Quranic...

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Crimea: Disappeared Man Found Killed

(0) Comments | Posted March 18, 2014 | 3:04 PM

(Simferopol) – Crimean authorities should urgently conduct a thorough investigation into the enforced disappearance and subsequent killing of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar from the Simferopol region, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ametov’s relatives told Human Rights Watch that he was last seen during a protest...

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War Crimes in South Sudan

(0) Comments | Posted February 27, 2014 | 4:11 PM

(Nairobi) – Both pro and antigovernment armed forces are responsible for serious abuses that may amount to war crimes in two key oil hubs in South Sudan during recent fighting, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch researchers visited Malakal and Bentiu, the capitals of two...

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New Video Shows Horrors of North Korea Through Eyewitness Testimony

(0) Comments | Posted February 17, 2014 | 11:31 AM

UN Should Act on Atrocities Report

(Geneva) – A new United Nations report has found that crimes against humanity are occurring in North Korea and calls for an international tribunal to investigate and hold perpetrators to account.

The report, by a UN Commission of Inquiry appointed by...

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Traffickers Who Torture in Egypt and Sudan

(0) Comments | Posted February 12, 2014 | 3:30 PM

Traffickers have kidnapped, tortured, and killed refugees, most from Eritrea, in eastern Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to dozens of interviewees. Egypt and Sudan have failed to adequately identify and prosecute the traffickers and any security officials who may have colluded with them, breaching both countries’...

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Legge contro la propaganda gay in Russia, chi difende i minori russi?

(0) Comments | Posted February 6, 2014 | 9:01 AM

La dichiarazione a un gruppo di volontari, ampiamente riportata il 17 gennaio scorso, del presidente Vladimir Putin, che "il sesso gay non è un crimine in Russia, quindi i gay possono sentirsi al sicuro, stare calmi, ma per cortesia devono lasciare in pace i bambini", è gravemente offensiva....

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Russia: Organized Vigilante Groups Target and Attack LGBT People

(19) Comments | Posted February 4, 2014 | 8:53 AM

The Russian authorities need to address a deteriorating situation of widespread and concerted abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and activists. The authorities’ failure to act and some officials’ homophobic comments expose LGBT people to further harassment and violence and embolden the attackers, Human Rights Watch research found.

As the host to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which begin on February 7, 2014, in Sochi, Russia should act in accordance with the principle of nondiscrimination, a core provision of the Olympic Charter. As a member of the Council of Europe, and party to multiple human rights treaties, it should meet its obligations to provide equal respect and protection for LGBT people.

“The Russian authorities have the power to protect the rights of LGBT people, but instead they are ignoring their responsibility to do so,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstep for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people.”

LGBT people face stigma, harassment, and violence in their everyday lives in Russia, and LGBT victims of violence and groups told Human Rights Watch that these problems intensified in 2013. Victims in cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk told Human Rights Watch they were attacked in public places, abducted, beaten, harassed, threatened, and psychologically abused. They told Human Rights Watch that they were afraid to go to the police to report violence, fearing further harassment and believing the police would not bother to pursue their attackers. When victims did lodge complaints with the police, few investigations followed.

The absence of relevant data makes it impossible to quantify the extent to which such violence and harassment increased during 2013, but all of the victims and LGBT groups who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they experienced an escalation in homophobic attacks starting in late 2012.

The Russian LGBT Network, an umbrella LGBT group based in St. Petersburg, conducted an anonymous survey on discrimination against LGBT populations in Russia in 2013. More than 50 percent of the 2,007 respondents had experienced psychological abuse, and 15 percent had experienced physical violence. Only 6 percent of victims contacted police.

At least three murders allegedly motivated by homophobia were reported in May, a month before the adoption and signing of the federal anti-gay “propaganda” law.

The adoption of the federal law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” one measure among several federal anti-LGBT laws proposed or adopted in 2013, coincided with the spread of homophobic violence. Violating the law is an administrative offense punishable by a range of fines. Media and organizations face particularly hefty fines. On January 30 a court found a newspaper editor in Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, in violation of the federal “propaganda” law and fined him 50,000 rubles (US$1,450). The editor was charged in connection with publishing an interview in which a gay school teacher, forced to resign over his sexual orientation, was quoted as saying, “My very existence proves that homosexuality is normal.” The editor will appeal the decision.

Foreigners who violate the law are subject to fines, up to 15 days in detention and deportation.

The law also bans representing “traditional” and “nontraditional” relationships as equally acceptable. That makes it illegal to say anything positive about being gay publicly or to tell a child that there is nothing wrong with being gay or being raised by gay parents.

Simultaneously, a vicious homophobic campaign began in the media, particularly state- sponsored and state-controlled media outlets. Government officials, journalists, and celebrities have publicly called LGBT people “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and have conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. The deputy director of a government television and radio holding and also one of the leading talk show hosts proposed to “burn or bury” the hearts of gay organ donors rather than use them for transplants because they are “unfit to continue anyone’s life.”

“The discriminatory impact of the anti-LGBT law and hateful language on state television have created a climate of intolerance against the Russian LGBT community,” Cooper said. “Russian leaders should denounce, not feed, homophobic hysteria, or the Kremlin’s silence will be taken as condoning the violence.”

Starting in late 2012, numerous vigilante groups consisting of radical nationalists began attacking and harassing gay people in dozens of Russian cities. Mostly claiming to be fighting pedophilia, these groups lure men and boys to meet, accuse them of being gay, humiliate and beat them, and post videos of the proceedings on social networks, intentionally exposing their victims to further abuse. The groups have posted hundreds of videos online.

On January 17, 2014, during a meeting in Krasnaya Polyana, one of the Olympic locations, president Putin said that gay people were welcome in Sochi and would be “comfortable” there, but asked them “to leave children in peace.”

“Russian officials embolden homophobes and their violent attacks by persistently equating homosexuality with pedophilia,” Cooper said. “Such a chilling and wrongheaded message about LGBT people from Russia’s head of state is irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”

Public events in support of LGBT rights have long been met with official intolerance and violent counterdemonstrations. LGBT activists have increasingly become targets of vicious attacks during such events. Human Rights Watch documented violent attacks on LGBT activists during 2012 and 2013 in several Russian cities, including Voronezh, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk.

Threats and intimidation against Russian LGBT groups also spread in 2013. Several LGBT organizations and their staff experienced violence, threats, and interference with their work. One egregious attack occurred in November at LaSky, an HIV prevention center serving the LGBT community and men who have sex with men in St. Petersburg. Two people entered the LaSky office during a social event and attacked visitors, shooting one in the eye with a pneumatic gun and beating another with a baseball bat.

“Russian officials have long denied that discrimination against LGBT people exists, including to the International Olympic Committee, yet the hostility and violence clearly have been intensifying,” Cooper said. “As Russia hosts the Olympics in this atmosphere of homophobic hatred, the government needs to take urgent measures to support the rights of LGBT people and protect them.”

Read testimony about the attacks and vigilante attackers...

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Ukraine: Police Attacked Dozens of Journalists, Medics

(0) Comments | Posted January 31, 2014 | 7:32 AM

(Kiev) – Ukrainian police assaulted and injured dozens of journalists and medical workers while trying to disperse street fighters and protesters in Kiev from January 19 to 22, 2014. Ukraine’s international partners should press Ukraine to investigate serious human rights violations and prosecute those responsible in accordance with international...

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Syria: Satellite Imagery Shows Entire Neighborhoods Gone

(0) Comments | Posted January 30, 2014 | 5:34 PM

Satellite imagery, witness statements, and video and photographic evidence show that Syrian authorities deliberately and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings in Damascus and Hama in 2012 and 2013.  

The 38-page report, “Razed to the Ground: Syria’s Unlawful Neighborhood Demolitions in 2012-2013,” documents seven cases of...
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Il problema del razzismo in Italia va affrontato a monte

(15) Comments | Posted January 30, 2014 | 7:20 AM

Quando un quotidiano ha cominciato a pubblicare l'agenda di un ministro giorno dopo giorno, la cosa sarebbe potuta passare inosservata o addirittura essere vista come un servizio pubblico. Ma questa è l'Italia, il giornale è l'organo di stampa ufficiale della xenofoba Lega Nord, e il funzionario pubblico è...

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Central African Republic -- 'We Will Take Our Revenge'

(5) Comments | Posted January 29, 2014 | 11:37 AM

Fatimatu Yamsa knew that her desperate attempt to flee the slaughter all around her had failed as soon as she saw the Christian anti-balaka militia at a roadblock. Fatimatu was on a truck in Boali, about 100 kilometers northwest of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. Knowing she...

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Football Star Out, Sochi Offside

(0) Comments | Posted January 9, 2014 | 4:29 PM

Thomas Hitzlsperger, a famous German football player who represented his country in the national team 52 times, played in Germany, England, and Italy before injuries ended his career last September. The other day he made a surprising announcement in an interview:  “I am gay.” He explained he wanted to advance...

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Lebanon: Tripoli's Residents Trapped in Sectarian Violence

(0) Comments | Posted December 20, 2013 | 4:39 PM

(Beirut) – Sectarian tensions between the Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and surrounding Sunni neighborhoods have led to increasing targeted attacks against Alawites in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. The Lebanese authorities’ response has remained weak even as the conflict in Syria has seriously aggravated tensions there.

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Activists in Saudi Arabia Challenging the Red Lines

(0) Comments | Posted December 18, 2013 | 10:57 AM

(Beirut) – Activists in Saudi Arabia face a repressive and intolerant government as they advocate popular political participation, judicial reform, and an end to discrimination against women and minorities. Authorities have responded by arresting, prosecuting, and attempting to silence rights defenders and to quash their calls for change.

The 48-page...
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Dispatch from CAR: What Communal Slaughter Looks Like Up Close

(8) Comments | Posted December 8, 2013 | 9:58 AM

by Peter Bouckaert

On Thursday morning, the photographer Marcus Bleasdale and I went to see the imam of Bossangoa, Central African Republic (CAR), at his home in the Muslim Boro district of the town. The situation in Bossangoa was tense as word spread of heavy fighting in the capital, Bangui,...

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African Peacekeepers to the Rescue

(0) Comments | Posted December 6, 2013 | 10:13 AM

Just last month, it seemed that the African peacekeeping troops in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, did little more than turn a profit selling cold beers to the local population. But today, those same troops courageously came to the rescue of people caught in an intense battle for control of...

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