(Manila) – Migrant domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are beaten, exploited, and trapped in forced labor situations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The UAE government, about to take up an influential new role in the International Labour Organization (ILO), has failed to...
(Berlin) – Ukrainian government forces used cluster munitions in populated areas in Donetsk city in early October 2014. The use of cluster munitions in populated areas violates the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon and may amount to war crimes.
During a week-long investigation...
Pervasive Deaths, Injuries in Police Custody
Bangkok – Police throughout Vietnam abuse people in their custody, in some cases leading to death, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Vietnamese government should take immediate action to end suspicious deaths in custody and torture of detainees...
(New Delhi) – The Indian government should end “manual scavenging” – the cleaning of human waste by communities considered low-caste – by ensuring that local officials enforce the laws prohibiting this discriminatory practice, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The government should implement existing legislation aimed...
(New York) – Justice remains elusive for the victims of the chemical weapons attacks on Ghouta, near Damascus, which killed hundreds of people, Human Rights Watch said today, on the anniversary of the August 21, 2013, attacks.
The attacks were the most significant use of chemical agents since the Iraqi...
(Cairo) – The systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013 probably amounts to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today in a report based on a year-long investigation. In the August 14 dispersal of the Rab’a...
By Laura Pitter
Is some sense of sanity finally slipping into the torture debate in the U.S.? Yesterday, after years of criticism for failing to call it by its name, the New York Times finally decided it would use the word “torture” to describe when U.S. interrogators use pain...
On July 30 a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) came under attack. At least 15 people died and scores more were wounded, including women and children who were sheltering there. It was the second UN school hit...
(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very...
(Abuja) – The Islamist insurgency Boko Haram in Nigeria killed at least 2,053 civilians in an estimated 95 attacks during the first half of 2014. The figures are based on detailed analyses of media reports as well as field investigations. The killings and other abuses were part of widespread...
(Baghdad) – Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appear to have unlawfully executed at least 255 prisoners in six Iraqi cities and villages since June 9, 2014. In all but one case, the executions took place while the fighters were fleeing Islamic State of Iraq...
(London) – Pakistan’s government should take all necessary measures to stop Sunni extremist groups in Balochistan province from committing further killings and other abuses against Hazara and other Shia Muslims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 62-page report, “‘We are the Walking Dead’:...
(Nairobi) – Thousands of people in a poor urban district outside Mombasa face serious health consequences from toxic lead from a battery recycling plant, Human Rights Watch said today. The crisis is the result of the Kenyan government’s failure to adequately regulate the lead smelter in the Owino Uhuru...
Non-state armed groups in Syria have used children as young as 15 to fight in battles, sometimes recruiting them under the guise of offering education. The groups have used children as young as 14 in support roles. Extremist Islamist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS)...
The sweltering tent housing Hussein, his wife, and five young children contained almost nothing but foam mattresses and dust. Aid workers had dropped off a giant bag of laundry detergent, but there was no water for drinking, much less for washing. The family also had received a grill, but had...
According to the police, three suspects arrested after an uproar over the rape and deaths of two teenage girls in Badaun, in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, have confessed to their crime. Meanwhile, in western Maharashtra state, the owner of a charity was arrested after five children residing...
(Manila) -- The Philippine government should investigate an alleged “death squad” implicated in several hundred killings in Tagum City on the southern island of Mindanao, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Official police records obtained by Human Rights Watch show 298 killings between January 2007 and March 2013 that provincial police attributed to the “Tagum Death Squad,” and for which no one has been prosecuted.
The 71-page report, “‘One Shot to the Head’: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines,” details the involvement of local government officials -- including Tagum City’s former mayor, Rey “Chiong” Uy -- and police officers in the extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, street children, and others over the past decade. The report draws heavily on interviews and affidavits from three self-proclaimed members of the death squad in Tagum City who took part in its killing operations. It also examines the failure of the Philippine government to seriously investigate the death squad and bring those responsible to justice.
“Tagum City’s former mayor helped organize and finance a death squad linked to the murder of hundreds of residents,’” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Rey Uy called these citizens ‘weeds.’ He and other city officials and police officers underwrote targeted killings as a perverse form of crime control.”
Since 1998, when he was first elected Tagum City’s mayor, Rey Uy, along with close aides and city police officers, hired, equipped, and paid for an operation that at its height consisted of 14 hit men and accomplices. Many were on the city government payroll with the Civil Security Unit, a City Hall bureau tasked with traffic management and providing security in markets and schools.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than three dozen people, including surviving victims and their families, witnesses to killings, police officers, and former death squad members. The former death squad members described how those who refused to carry out orders, sought to quit, or otherwise fell into disfavor were themselves likely to become death squad victims.
“There is compelling evidence of the involvement of Tagum City police and former Mayor Rey Uy mayor in a death squad that operated during Uy’s 1998-2013 tenure as mayor,” Kine said. “The Tagum death squad’s activities imposed a fear-enforced silence in Tagum City that allowed the killers and their bosses to literally get away with murder.”
The 12 killings Human Rights Watch documented typically occurred outdoors, on the streets, and often in broad daylight. The hit men, wearing baseball caps and sunglasses and armed with .45 caliber handguns, would arrive and depart on government-issued motorcycles. Former death squad members told Human Rights Watch that they would routinely inform local police via text message of an impending targeted killing, so the police would not interfere. After the killing, the police in turn would notify them if any witnesses had identified them.
Those targeted were primarily people that Mayor Uy had declared to be the “weeds” of Tagum society, namely suspected petty criminals and drug dealers, as well as street children. The death squad drew its targets from the “order of battle” or OB, a list of names coming from various sources, including local community leaders, neighborhood watchmen, and police intelligence officers. Names of drug suspects were provided by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The Tagum Death Squad also apparently carried out “guns-for-hire” operations that Uy was either unaware of or did not specifically commission, such as the killing of a journalist, a judge, at least two police officers, and a tribal leader as well as local politicians and businessmen. In several cases, the death squad’s handlers would fabricate drug allegations against the target of a contract killing to justify to Uy their murder.
Former Tagum Death Squad members told Human Rights Watch that the unit was paid 5,000 pesos (US$110) for every killing, which the members would divide among themselves. They said that on at least two occasions, Uy personally paid the death squad members for two killings. A former hit man who was himself attacked by his former colleagues surrendered to the Davao del Norte provincial police and later agreed to testify in a case filed against Uy and others. Targeted killings have continued but with less frequency since Uy stepped down as mayor in June 2013.
The Tagum Death Squad was initially a crime-fighting group patterned after the death squad in nearby Davao City, which propelled that city’s mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, to national fame. In February 2011, Uy issued an explicit warning to “criminal” elements in the city advising them to “go somewhere else.” A senior official of the governmental Commission on Human Rights described these murders as “silent killings” because they were hardly ever reported in the media.
Local and national authorities have failed to seriously investigate the vast majority of Tagum City’s killings, Human Rights Watch said. While police routinely cite a lack of witnesses to explain the absence of prosecutions, victims’ relatives and witnesses say they fear testifying, largely due to the perceived links of the death squad to local officials.
On April 28, 2014, the media reported that the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the prosecution of four security guards employed by the Tagum City government for their alleged role in the abduction, torture, and murder of two teenage boys in February 2014. The current Tagum City mayor, Allan Rellon, reportedly told the media that he was “bewildered” by the allegations, saying that, “As a local chief executive, I abhor any form of summary killing.”
President Benigno Aquino III has largely ignored extrajudicial killings by death squads in Tagum City and other urban areas. He has failed to condemn local anti-crime campaigns that promote or encourage the unauthorized use of force to rid city streets of “undesirables.” A much-vaunted initiative by the administration to address impunity – the creation in 2012 of a so-called “superbody” to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings – has remained largely inactive even as new cases were reported by Philippine human rights groups.
Other national institutions responsible for law and order, namely the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Commission on Human Rights have largely been inactive in combatting death squads.
Human Rights Watch has previously published a 103-page report, “You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao,” on a ‘death squad’ active in Davao City and the government’s failure to investigate the involvement of police and local government officials in targeted killings.
Human Rights Watch called on the Aquino administration to direct the responsible government agencies to take measures to stop the killings in Tagum City and elsewhere, thoroughly investigate death squad killings and the death squads themselves, and bring justice to the victims' families. Immediate attention should be given to the situation in Tagum City and the role of former and current government officials and members of the police in abuses.
“The Philippine government’s failure to act decisively against death squad killings has certainly contributed to the horrific death toll in Tagum City, “ Kine said. “President Aquino needs to send a loud and urgent message that deploying death squads as a ‘crime control’ measure is unlawful and needs to stop.”
Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 138-page report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming,” documents conditions for children working on tobacco farms in four states where 90 percent of US tobacco is grown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.
“As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they can’t avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette” said Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It’s no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick.”
The report is based on interviews with 141 child tobacco workers, ages seven to 17 (view infographic).
Children working in tobacco farming face other serious risks as well, Human Rights Watch said. They may use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb several stories without protection to hang tobacco in barns. Children also reported that tractors sprayed pesticides in nearby fields. They said the spray drifted over them, making them vomit, feel dizzy, and have difficulty breathing and a burning sensation in their eyes.
Many of the pesticides used in tobacco production are known neurotoxins, poisons that alter the nervous system. The long-term effects of childhood pesticide exposure can include cancer, problems with learning and cognition, and reproductive health issues.Children are especially vulnerable because their bodies and brains are still developing.Human Rights Watch sent letters to 10 US and global tobacco companies and met with many of them to encourage these companies to adopt policies, or strengthen existing policies, to prevent hazardous child labor in their supply chains.
“Tobacco companies shouldn’t benefit from hazardous child labor,” Wurth said. “They have a responsibility to adopt clear, comprehensive policies that get children out of dangerous work on tobacco farms, and make sure the farms follow the rules.”
Health Hazards for Children
Several hundred thousand children work in US agriculture every year, but no data is available on the number working in tobacco farming. Many children interviewed by Human Rights Watch described going to work on tobacco farms at age 11 or 12, primarily during the summer, to help support their families. Most were the children of Hispanic immigrants who lived in communities where tobacco was grown and who attended school full-time.
Children Human Rights Watch interviewed described feeling suddenly, acutely ill while working on tobacco farms. “It happens when you’re out in the sun,” said a16-year-old girl in Kentucky. “You want to throw up. And you drink water because you’re so thirsty, but the water makes you feel worse. You throw up right there when you’re cutting [tobacco plants], but you just keep cutting.” A 12-year-old boy in North Carolina described a headache he had while working:“It was horrible. It felt like there was something in my head trying to eat it.”
Acute nicotine poisoning – often called Green Tobacco Sickness – occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants, particularly when plants are wet. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. Though the long-term effects are uncertain, some research suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence may have consequences for brain development.
Several children told Human Rights Watch that they had been injured while working with sharp tools and heavy machinery. In Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, children often hand-harvest tall tobacco plants by cutting them with small axes and spearing the stalks onto long sticks with pointed ends. The children said they often cut or puncture themselves on the hands, arms, legs, and feet. A 16-year-old boy described an accident while harvesting tobacco in Tennessee: “I cut myself with the hatchet.… I probably hit a vein or something because it wouldn’t stop bleeding and I had to go to the hospital…. My foot was all covered in blood.” One 17-year-old boy interviewed by Human Rights Watch lost two fingers in an accident with a mower used to trim small tobacco plants.Almost none of the children Human Rights Watch interviewed said that employers had given them health and safety training or protective gear. Instead, children typically covered themselves with black plastic garbage bags in an attempt to keep their clothes dry when they worked in fields wet with dew or rain.
Federal data on fatal occupational injuries indicates that agriculture is the most dangerous industry open to young workers. In 2012, two-thirds of children under 18 who died from occupational injuries were agricultural workers, and there were more than 1,800 nonfatal injuries to children under 18 working on US farms.Most children interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had no access to toilets or a place to wash their hands at their worksites, leaving them with tobacco and pesticides residue on their hands, even during mealtimes.
Lack of Protection Under US Law
Under US labor law, children working in agriculture can work longer hours, at younger ages, and in more hazardous conditions than children in any other industry. Children as young as 12 can be hired for unlimited hours outside of school hours on a farm of any size with parental permission, and there is no minimum age for children to work on small farms. At 16, child farmworkers can do jobs deemed hazardous by the US Department of Labor. Children in all other sectors must be 18 to do hazardous work.Regulations proposed by the Labor Department in 2011 would have prohibited children under 16 from working on tobacco farms, but they were withdrawn in 2012.
“The US has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,”Wurth said. “The Obama administration should endorse regulations that make it clear that work on tobacco farms is hazardous for children, and Congress should enact laws to give child farmworkers the same protections as all other working children.”
Role of Tobacco Companies
Human Rights Watch presented its findings and recommendations to 10 companies that purchase tobacco grown in the United States, including eight cigarette manufacturing companies: Altria Group (parent of Philip Morris USA), British American Tobacco, China National Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group, Japan Tobacco Group, Lorillard, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, and two international leaf merchants who purchase tobacco leaf and sell to manufacturers: Alliance One and Universal Corporation.
All of the companies except China National Tobacco responded and said they are concerned about child labor in their supply chains. However, the companies’ approaches do not sufficiently protect children from hazardous work, Human Rights Watch said. In some cases, companies allow for lower standards of protection for children in their US supply chain than for children working on tobacco farms in all other countries from which they purchase tobacco.
Philip Morris International has the most comprehensive global child labor policy among the companies contacted. Since 2010, Philip Morris International has sought to carry out the policy through training and monitoring in its supply chain worldwide. In 2009, Human Rights Watch documented abuses on farms supplying tobacco to a Philip Morris International subsidiary in Kazakhstan.
Human Rights Watch urged companies to prohibit children from engaging in all tasks that pose risks to their health and safety, including any work involving direct contact with tobacco plants or dry tobacco, due to the risk of nicotine exposure. Companies should also establish effective internal and third-party monitoring of labor policies.“Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides, and have no real protective gear,”Wurth said. “Tobacco companies should get children out of hazardous work on tobacco farms and support efforts to provide them with alternative educational and vocational opportunities.”
Bangladesh’s government and members of rival political parties all bear responsibility for the violence that scarred national elections on January 5, 2014. Hundreds were killed and injured in violent attacks surrounding the controversial elections, according to Bangladeshi human rights organizations.
“These were the bloodiest elections since independence, and unless concrete...
(New Delhi) – School authorities in India persistently discriminate against children from marginalized communities, denying them their right to education. Four years after an ambitious education law went into effect in India guaranteeing free schooling to every child ages 6 to 14, almost every child is enrolled, yet nearly half are...