Updates from Human Rights Watch:

UN Rights Council: Renew Iran Mandates
Maintain Special Rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission

The United Nations Human Rights Council should renew the mission of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Iran and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, 43 Iranian and International organizations including Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to member countries.

The letter was issued after the Fact-Finding Mission presented its first report to the rights council, concluding that the Government of Iran is responsible for serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity.

“Victims and survivors in Iran rely on these critical international mechanisms amid the brutal ongoing crackdown,” saidNahid Naghshbandi, acting Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The special rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission play a vital role shining a spotlight on egregious abuses and amplifying the voices of survivors and victims for accountability and justice.”

The UN special rapporteur on Iran has played a crucial role since the position was established in 2011, monitoring and documenting abuses, engaging with Iranian authorities, including on individual cases, and supporting Iranian civil society.

The Fact-Finding Mission was established more recently – following the death in Iranian morality police custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman detained over her apparel – specifically to address the brutal state repression of nationwide protests in 2022, with a particular focus on the women and children. Its mandate focuses on advancing accountability for serious crimes, including through the collection and preservation of evidence and identification of suspected abusers.

In its report, presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 8, 2024, it concluded that the Government of Iran committed serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests. These violations disproportionately affected women, children, and minorities, intersecting with discrimination based on ethnicity and religion. As abuses relating to the protests continue to reverberate in Iran, with total impunity at national level, the Mission’s work remains critical. 

The human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated significantly in recent years, with heightened repression – particularly against women – since protests in 2022. There has been a significant spike in the use of the death penalty in Iran over the past year, including against those involved in protests and against juvenile offenders, in clear breach of international law. Iranian law discriminates against Baha’is, arresting them on vague national security charges and denying their university registration. The government also targets Sunni Muslims and ethnic minority activists, arresting them on similar charges and restricting their cultural and political activities.



Canada: All 10 Provinces To End Immigration Detention in Jails
Newfoundland and Labrador Joins the Rest; Federal Government Should Follow Suit

All 10 of Canada’s provinces have now committed to ending their immigration detention agreements and arrangements with the Canada Border Services Agency, a major victory for migrant and refugee rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Canada said today. Newfoundland and Labrador, the last remaining province, has now confirmed that it will no longer allow the federal government to detain migrants and asylum seekers in local jails.

The two organizations created the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021 to urge provinces to stop the practice. The use of provincial jails for immigration detention is inconsistent with international human rights standards and devastating to people’s mental health. The federal government should follow the provinces and take meaningful steps to end immigration detention across the country.  

“Newfoundland and Labrador’s decision is a momentous human rights victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life,” said Samer Muscati, acting disability rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “With all 10 provinces now having cancelled their immigration detention agreements and arrangements, the federal government should finally guarantee through a policy directive or legislative amendment that the border agency will stop using jails for immigration detention once and for all.”

Over the past five years, the border agency has incarcerated thousands of people on immigration grounds in dozens of provincial jails across the country, on the basis of agreements and arrangements with provinces. Conditions in provincial jails are abusive, and these facilities are inherently punitive. On March 12, 2024, the Newfoundland and Labrador government sent official notice to the border agency that as of March 31, 2025, its provincial jails will no longer hold people detained solely under immigration law. So far, the agreements in five provinces have expired following notice-of-termination periods, with the remaining five provinces’ agreements due to expire by March 2025. The border agency has sought to extend the agreements in some provinces.

In a 2021 report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented that racialized people, and in particular Black men, are confined in more restrictive conditions and for longer periods in Canada’s immigration detention than other detainees. People with disabilities also experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process.

People in immigration detention are regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world. Canada is among only a few countries in the Global North with no legal limit on the duration of immigration detention, meaning people can be detained for months or years with no end in sight.

Sara Maria Gomez Lopez experienced immigration detention firsthand after she arrived in Canada as an asylum seeker in 2012. The border agency incarcerated her for three months in British Columbia. “I remember that deep pain I felt in jail,” she said. “Canada can and must stop multiplying such pain and instead give way to the humane welcome that has helped heal so many who found refuge in this country. This development gives me hope that others will be spared the pain that I experienced.”

Since the #WelcomeToCanada campaign began, hundreds of advocateslawyershealthcare providers, and faith leaders, alongside people with lived experience in immigration detention as well as dozens of leading social justice organizations, have called on provincial and federal authorities to end the use of provincial jails for immigration detention. More than 30,000 people across Canada have also participated in the campaign by writing directly to provincial and federal authorities.

Under the agreements and arrangements, the border agency paid provinces hundreds of dollars daily for each immigration detainee incarcerated in a provincial jail. For example, according to the border agency, n the fiscal year ending March 2023, the agency paid CAD$615.80 per day for each woman detained in a New Brunswick jail. That same fiscal year, the agency spent $82.7 million on detention, more than in any of the previous four years.

Under immigration law, the border agency has full discretion over where people in immigration detention are held, with no legal standard guiding the agency’s decision to hold a person in a provincial jail rather than an immigration holding center. Once agreements and arrangements with the provinces expire, the agency will no longer have access to provincial jails for immigration detention. It also operates three immigration holding centers, which resemble and operate like medium security prisons, with significant restrictions on privacy and liberty, rigid rules and daily routines, and punitive measures in response to failures to follow rules and orders.

There are viable alternatives to detention across the country. Instead of funding detention facilities or punitive non-custodial practices such as electronic trackers, the federal government should invest in rights-respecting, community-based programs that are operated by local nonprofit organizations independently of the border agency.

“We commend the provinces for their decisions to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in jails solely on immigration grounds,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section. “There is now clear pressure for the federal government to stop this rights-violating system across the country.”


Seychelles: Rights Concerns in High-Profile Case
Irregularities Risk Jeopardizing Anticorruption Efforts

The authorities in Seychelles should ensure that the prosecution of a former presidential adviser and other defendants in a high-profile anticorruption case is free, fair, and impartial, Human Rights Watch said today.

The ongoing trial of five defendants for alleged illegal possession of firearms and conspiracy to commit terrorism started in July 2023. Allegations of procedural and other irregularities, which have persisted since the initial arrests of the defendants in November 2021, should be transparently and speedily investigated and addressed so they do not jeopardize the defendants’ right to a fair trial.

“The authorities should ensure that the judicial proceedings are conducted in line with the Seychelles constitution and international human rights laws,” said Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, deputy director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “Abusive and partial application in the enforcement of anticorruption and arms control laws, risks undermining the very rule of law they seek to enthrone.”

In November 2021, law enforcement authorities, including officials of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles, searched the home of Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura Valabhji, and arrested both in connection with an allegedly missing US$50 million. The funds, a foreign aid donation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2002, was to help the Government of Seychelles address its foreign exchange shortfalls and debts, including for importing essential commodities, like fuel and food.

Mukesh, then chief executive officer of the Seychelles Marketing Board and economic adviser to then-President France Albert René, was authorized by the president to sign the documentation and deposit the allegedly missing funds into a Marketing Board bank account.

The arrests and prosecution of the defendants, which include the wife of former president René, was widely touted as key progress toward ending impunity for corruption in the country. Media reports quoted the Anti-Corruption Commission officials as saying they opened the case in 2017 on then-President Danny Faure’s instruction, and that “there is nothing sinister about it or any ulterior motives.” Lawyers for the Valabhjis said, however, that former governments had said they had found no evidence of theft of the UAE funds. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify this information.

The authorities alleged that during the search at the Valabhji residence, agents discovered a cache of firearms and ammunition hidden behind basement walls. The couple’s lawyers said that these arms had been stored in their home for almost two decades with the authority of former President René.

The Attorney General’s office is separately prosecuting the Valabhjis, together with three former senior Seychelles army officers, for the importation and unlawful possession of the arms, and conspiracy to commit terrorism. According to the prosecution, Laura Valabhji was charged along with her husband on the assumption that she should have known about the presence of the arms in their home.

The Valabhjis’ lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the defendants have petitioned the United Nations’ working group on arbitrary detention, alleging that the government of Seychelles is depriving them of their right to liberty and a fair hearing, and has subjected them to abusive and degrading treatment in violation of international and Seychelles laws.

On June 1, 2023, the Supreme Court of Seychelles dismissed an application by the Valabhjis requesting the Chief Justice Rony Govinden to recuse himself from both trials on several grounds.

There have been several long adjournments in both cases, largely at the prosecution’s request. The defendants’ lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the prosecution has often introduced new witnesses at the last minute, and failed to disclose documents and information in time for the defendants to adequately prepare their defense. The lawyers said that the court brushed aside these concerns.

The trial court has refused the defendants’ multiple bail applications, as the Anticorruption Commission has dropped some charges and added others. The commission dropped the fraud charges against Laura Valabhji, but she is still detained and faces trial on the arms charges.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the attorney general on March 5 about these concerns but has not received a response.

The Constitution of Seychelles, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provide legal safeguards during judicial processes, including the right to trial in an impartial court, within a reasonable time, or to release defendants pending trial; the right to adequate time to prepare for defense; and the right to a legal counsel of choice. Pretrial detention should be an exception, not the rule, and the authorities should justify the necessity of their detention on an individual basis.

“The Seychelles authorities should ensure that legitimate anticorruption efforts are not mired by violations of the country’s international and domestic human rights obligations,” Budoo-Scholtz said. “They should take urgent steps to ensure prompt and fair trial of all defendants and, unless the prosecution can prove the necessity of detention, grant them temporary release with reasonable conditions during the trial.”

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