Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released its annual World Report 2020 documenting human rights abuses around the world.
Kenneth Roth, the organization’s executive director, launched the report in New York after being denied entry on Sunday to Hong Kong, where the event was originally scheduled to be held.
The 652-page World Report reviews human rights practices in some 100 countries -- including India, Myanmar, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The report criticized the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for harassing and prosecuting human rights activists and journalists who criticized government officials and their policies.
"The government failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks, often led by BJP supporters, on religious minorities and other vulnerable communities," it said.
Referring to the citizenship verification project in the northeast state of Assam, the report said nearly two million people had been excluded, most of them Muslims, putting them at risk of statelessness.
It revealed that at least 77 people had been killed and over 1,100 injured since the BJP government took office in March 2017 in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, mob violence by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the BJP continued throughout the year against minorities, especially Muslims, over rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef.
"Since May 2015, 50 people have been killed and over 250 people injured in such attacks. Muslims were also beaten and forced to chant Hindu slogans," claimed the report.
India-administered Jammu and Kashmir
HRW said that following the suicide attack in February last year in Pulwama district of India-administered Kashmir, Kashmiri students and businessmen in other parts of India have been harassed, beaten and even forcibly evicted from leased housing and dorms by BJP supporters.
The attack on a security force convoy killed over 40 Indian troops. Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility, leading to a military escalation between India and Pakistan.
The report also reviewed the general situation in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, where on Aug. 5, the government revoked the region's special status. HRW said thousands of Kashmiris were detained without charge, including former chief ministers, political leaders, opposition activists, lawyers and journalists.
"The internet and phones were shut down. The government said it was to prevent loss of life, but there were credible, serious allegations of beatings and torture by security forces," it said.
By November, even though some restrictions were lifted, hundreds remained in detention while mobile phone service and internet access were still limited. The government blocked opposition politicians, foreign diplomats and international journalists from independent visits to Kashmir
According to the report, India continued to lead with the largest number of internet shutdowns globally, and by November, there had been 85 shutdowns, of which 55 were in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the report, military operations between Afghan and U.S. forces on one side and the Taliban on the other intensified in 2019, causing more than 8,000 civilian casualties between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.
"Civilian deaths from Afghan government and U.S. operations exceeded those caused by the Taliban for the first time during the first six months of 2019, largely due to a sharp increase in U.S. airstrikes," the report revealed.
However, civilian casualties from large-scale suicide attacks in urban areas saw a decrease in 2019, but indiscriminate strikes by insurgents still caused thousands of civilian deaths and injuries.
HRW accused Afghan special forces supported by the CIA of carrying out summary executions and enforced disappearances during night raids.
"On September 5, a National Directorate of Security (NDS) unit known as '02,' which is supported by the CIA, killed four civilian brothers during an operation in Jalalabad city. The 02 unit allegedly killed 11 men, most of them members of one extended family, in a night raid in Zurmat district, Nangarhar on August 11-12," HRW reported, adding all sides in the conflict also violated international legal protection for medical care, with attacks carried out on health facilities and killing medical workers.
The report also described atrocities being perpetrated by Beijing against members of the Uighur Turkic Muslim minority in China’s far western Xinjiang region as well as the serious encroachment by authorities on Hong Kong’s limited freedoms.
"The government’s ‘Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism’ has entailed mass arbitrary detention, surveillance, indoctrination and the destruction of the region’s cultural and religious heritage," the report said.
Credible estimates indicate that about 1 million Turkic Muslims are being indefinitely held in “political education” camps, where they are forced to disavow their identity and become loyal government subjects, claimed the report.
"Xinjiang authorities also continued to remove children whose parents were detained or in exile and hold them in state-run “child welfare” institutions and boarding schools without parental consent or access," the report further claimed.
HRW accused the Chinese authorities of forcibly employing those who have been released from detention and paying them wages far below the legal minimum amount and prohibiting them from leaving.
The reports said that despite Prime Minister Imran Khan pledging to make social justice a priority after taking office in July 2018, his administration has increased restrictions on the media, opposition politicians and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"The government cracked down on members and supporters of political parties. Several opposition leaders, including former heads of state and cabinet ministers, were arrested over corruption allegations," the report said.
Pakistan’s media operated in a climate of fear that impeded coverage of abuses by both government security forces and extremist armed groups, it added.
The report revealed that over 5 million primary-school-age children are out of school, most of them girls, for reasons including lack of schools in their areas, child marriage and gender discrimination.
"Pakistani law enforcement agencies were responsible for human rights violations including detention without charge and extrajudicial killings. Pakistan failed to enact a law criminalizing torture despite Pakistan’s obligation to do so under the Convention Against Torture," HRW claimed.
According to the report, more than 4,600 prisoners are on death row in Pakistan, one of the world’s largest populations facing execution.
"At least 511 individuals have been executed since Pakistan lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society," it said.
HRW accused the Myanmar government of continuing to defy international calls to seriously investigate human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Rakhine states.
"A United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission found sufficient evidence to call for the investigation of senior military officials for crimes against humanity and genocide against ethnic Rohingya Muslims.
“The government has been unwilling to address the root causes of the crises, including systematic persecution and violence, statelessness, and continued military impunity," HRW said.
The military has used sexual violence to devastate communities and deter women and girls from returning to their homes.
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government have repeatedly refused to cooperate meaningfully with UN rights investigators’ pursuit of accountability for rights violations, said HRW.
Rohingya under threat
According to the report, more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees remain in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh who fled after the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine state in what is now the largest concentration of encamped refugees in the world.
The Fact-Finding Mission’s final report in September 2019 found that the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Rakhine state were still the target of a government campaign to eradicate their identity and were living under the “threat of genocide,” the report said.
Approximately 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims confined to closed internally displaced people (IDP) camps in central Rakhine state have little freedom of movement and limited access to important health, education and other humanitarian services, the report added.
The report said that fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups intensified in 2019. The government regularly barred rights monitors and journalists from conflict areas and denied access to UN and other international humanitarian agencies seeking to provide food, medicine and other important aid.
According to the UN, at least 33,000 ethnic Rakhine remain displaced due to fighting, including 3,300 children out of 9,000 IDPs in northern Rakhine state.
Civilians continued to be targeted during hostilities in northern Myanmar. Northern Shan State witnessed renewed fighting where 17 civilians were killed and 27 injured in the first few weeks of fighting, many of them women and children, HRW quoted the UN.
The fighting caused the displacement of an estimated 8,000 people who sought shelter in schools, monasteries and churches. By the end of September, approximately 2,000 remained displaced.
In the report, HRW accused Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League government of ignoring calls during the year for an independent investigation into serious allegations of electoral fraud after the December 2018 national elections.
"The national election on December 30, 2018 was characterized by abuses including attacks on opposition members, arbitrary arrests and voter intimidation.
“The ruling Awami League won 96% of the contested parliamentary seats, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned for a third consecutive term. The Election Commission rushed to call the election free and fair instead of investigating irregularities," HRW said.
Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), has remained in prison for nearly two years at the time of writing over longstanding corruption cases.
Bangladesh is hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees and has kept its commitment under international law not to force returns.
"Conditions in the camps worsened, however, as the government resisted infrastructure improvements, repeatedly threatened to relocate refugees to a potentially uninhabitable island, and took steps to restrict freedom of movement and access to the internet in the camps," HRW further said in its report.
HRW also accused the government of silencing critics, journalists, students and activists and said journalists faced pressure to self-censor or risk arrest.